New research led by Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) demonstrates a disease mechanism in type 1 diabetes (T1D) that can be targeted using simple, naturally occurring molecules to help prevent the disease. The work highlights a previously unrecognized molecular pathway that contributes to the malfunction of insulin-producing pancreatic beta cells in T1D in human patients and in mice, and shows that a chemical intervention can help beta cells function properly and survive. Currently, there is no preventive regimen or cure for T1D, and the only treatment is insulin therapy by injection or pump.

The study appears online November 13, 2013 in Science Translational Medicine.

In T1D, beta cells are mistakenly attacked by the body’s own immune system, and much prior research has focused on ways to prevent this autoimmune response. “This study breaks new ground because it focuses on boosting beta cell performance and shows that beta cell preservation is possible even in the face of such immune attack,” said senior author Gökhan S. Hotamisligil, chair of the Department of Genetics and Complex Diseases and J.S. Simmons Professor of Genetics and Metabolism at HSPH.

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