Type 1 treatment possible from cancer therapy

An adapted a form of cancer immunotherapy has the potential to be a treatment for  type 1 diabetes.

A team of leading researchers have tweaked immune cells to fight off rogue T cells that damage insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, preventing diabetes from developing.

Our immune system

Our immune system is a machine, sending out cells to patrol the body and destroy dangerous invaders. But sometimes it gets its wires crossed and attacks healthy cells. This can lead to a range of autoimmune diseases.

Type 1 diabetes is one of these. It is triggered when rogue T cells attack and destroy beta cells in the pancreas.

Since these cells produce insulin, the resulting shortage of the hormone renders the person unable to regulate their blood glucose levels. The result is diabetes.

About the research

Researchers may found a novel tactic to prevent diabetes from taking hold. Using engineered T cells to target and destroy the misbehaving immune cells, preventing damage to vital beta cells.

In designing their new T cell, the team mimicked the structure of killer T cells, which hunt their prey using a receptor, coreceptor, and three signaling modules. They named the end result a five-module chimeric antigen receptor (5MCAR) T cell.

“The 5MCAR was an attempt to figure out if we could build something by biomimicry. We used some of evolution’s natural pieces, and redirected T cells to do what we want them to do,” said Michael Kuhns, lead author of the study.

“We engineered a 5MCAR that would direct killer T cells to target autoimmune T cells that mediate type 1 diabetes. So now, a killer T cell will actually recognize another T cell.


“We flipped T cell-mediated immunity on its head.”


In tests of the treatment in a mouse models the 5MCAR T cells successfully attacked and destroyed the animals’ autoimmune CD4+ T cells, mitigating their diabetes.

“When we saw the 5MCAR T cells completely eliminate the harmful T cells that invaded the pancreas, we were blown away,” says Thomas Serwold, co-author of the study.

“It was like they hunted them down. That ability is why we think that 5MCAR T cells have tremendous potential for treating conditions like type 1 diabetes.”

Early results require more research

While early results are positive, the results of the mouse study are not guaranteed to carry across to humans.

The researchers will continue to investigate ways to make the treatment safe and effective in humans. This will take time but it is important progress in the search for a cure for type 1 diabetes.

The research was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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