Regenerative Medicine: The use of dendritic cells in the cure for diabetes

McGowan Institute faculty member, Dr. Massimo Trucco, and his research team have made great strides in a US Food and Drug Administration approved clinical trial using a pioneering method reversing type I diabetes by use of a treatment strategy involving specific modification of harvested dendritic cells, which allow the pancreas to resume insulin production, thereby reversing diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes, usually diagnosed in children and young adults, results when the body's immune system attacks insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. Without the hormone insulin, the body's cells can't use up the glucose circulating in blood. This condition not only deprives cells of energy, but too much circulating glucose can damage arteries, nerves, and organs.

Dendritic Cells and Diabetes

Dendritic cells are cells found in the bloodstream and normally function as one of nature's most efficient immune function cells. The cells identify foreign substances such as cancer cells, process these foreign substances, and then jumpstart the immune response by bringing these foreign substances to the attention of T cells.

Once harvested, researchers then combine the dendritic cells with specific blockers of molecules, which can be synthesized in a laboratory. This treatment strategy was found to inhibit the interaction and destructive effect of T cells on the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas, a process that is known to be a critical part of how diabetes occurs.

Subcutaneous injection of dendritic cells into the abdominal/pelvic area near the pancreas and lymph nodes, blocks the T cells as they travel to the pancreas to destroy beta cells.

Researchers have been unsure as to why the immune system attacks the beta cells, but the result is that the body stops producing insulin. When that happens, glucose builds up in the blood, but the body's cells starve to death.

Dr. Trucco’s findings reveal that the injections interrupted the T cell and beta cell interaction, allowing the beta cells in the pancreas to regenerate. This enabled the pancreas to begin producing insulin again.

The National Institutes of Health reports that more than 1 million children age 19 and younger have Type 1 Diabetes. According to the NIH, 5 percent to 10 percent of diagnosed diabetes cases in the United States are Type 1 Diabetes. People with Type 1 Diabetes require numerous daily injections of insulin to survive.

Additional Resources

How Do I Get Treatment?
Conventional treatments for type 1 diabetes are available from experts at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh

Children's, UPMC Study Way to Reverse Juvenile Diabetes Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, March 28, 2006

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