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Last Updated: Monday, 7 June, 2004, 23:33 GMT 00:33 UK
Diabetes blocked at early stage
Insulin is key to breaking down sugar in the body
US scientists are developing a potential way to block the development of Type 1 diabetes.

A team from Rockefeller University were able to stop the condition in its early stages in mice.

They did this by preventing the immune system from destroying cells in the pancreas which control the production of the key hormone insulin.

The research, which they hope will apply to humans, is published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine.

The prospect of finding a way of stopping the body from attacking itself and causing Type 1 diabetes is the holy grail of diabetes research.
Georgina Slack
Type 1 diabetes is caused by a fault in the body's immune system which mis-identifies the insulin-producing islet cells in the pancreas as foreign invaders, and targets them for destruction.

Once the cells are destroyed, the body has no capacity for producing insulin, and therefore no way to effectively break down sugar.

The Rockefeller team were able to stop this destruction by stimulating the production of a specialised type of immune system cell - the suppressor T cell - which can turn off the body's immune response.

They took T cells out of the mice, and stimulated them to grow in large numbers by exposing them to another type of immune system cell - dendritic cells - which trigger their proliferation.

The newly grown T cells were then injected back into the mice. With higher numbers of T cells present, the signal to shut down the destructive immune response was much more powerful than it would otherwise have been, and consequently fewer islet cells were killed.

Lead researcher Dr Kristin Tarbell said: "Instead of silencing the attackers directly, we learned how to generate another type of cell, called a regulatory or suppressor cell, which essentially turns off the attackers.

"Basically, it's a numbers game, and the problem in the onset of this disease is that there are not enough of the regulatory cells that suppress the immune response against the body's insulin-producing pancreatic islet cells."

Georgina Slack, Head of Research Diabetes UK, said: "The prospect of finding a way of stopping the body from attacking itself and causing Type 1 diabetes is the holy grail of diabetes research.

"These results, while still in the earliest of stages, are very promising."

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