A new vision of type 1 diabetes

February 16, 2021

Canadian discovery provides insight into the development of autoimmune diseases.

The immune system is made up of several types of white blood cells that help fight infections and prevent cancer. However, on occasion, the immune system attacks our own organs. This is the case in type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disease in which white blood cells destroy the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin, leading to increased blood glucose levels.

Two groups from the Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital Research Centre led by Dr. Heather Melichar and Dr. Sylvie Lesage collaborated with a group led by Dr. Colin Anderson from the University of Alberta to study why white blood cells destroy the pancreas and cause type 1 diabetes. They made a very unexpected discovery!

Indeed, the main white blood cells involved in the pathology of type 1 diabetes are T cells. It has long been assumed that mice or individuals who develop type 1 diabetes have more highly autoreactive T cells than those without autoimmune diseases. The new study, conducted in mice, indicates that this is not the case!

Instead, the three research groups were able to show that there was an increased number of weakly auto-reactive T cells. It is therefore the increased number of low self-reactive cells that would promote the development of autoimmune diseases.

This new knowledge enriches and fuels the design of new therapeutic approaches to prevent autoimmune diseases.

Accepted for publication in the journal Immunol Cell Biol 2021.


Photo credit: Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center