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This podcast offers a close up of the beginnings of type 1 diabetes and how one researcher is identifying pathways toward prevention. Type 1 diabetes, also known as insulin-dependent or juvenile onset diabetes, is not associated with causes like obesity as is type 2; rather, it’s considered an autoimmune disease.

Listen and learn

  • What research tells us about type 1 diabetes pathogenesis, which centers on an immune-generated destruction of insulin-producing beta cells (β-cells) in the pancreas,
  • How the trigger for the immune system attack is unknown and what Dr. Gerling’s research has identified thus far, and
  • How his lab’s findings may lead to preventative therapies, whether through specific vaccines or methods for reducing cell stress to inhibit disease progression.

Ivan C. Gerling is a professor of medicine in endocrinology at The University of Tennessee Health Science Center. He explains that scientists have little understanding for why the immune system attacks the pancreas’s beta cells, and thereby insulin production, which is the cause of type 1 diabetes. Because there’s no safe way to biopsy a pancreas for living-tissue studies, it’s been very difficult to get a close look at the mechanisms causing autoimmune diabetes symptoms.

Furthermore, because there’s no way for beta cell regeneration to naturally occur, preventing their destruction is key to preventing type 1 diabetes. However, a new organ-donation program has made a difference in allowing scientist like Dr. Gerling to study the pancreas tissue of type 1 diabetics. 

His lab is researching whether certain viruses stress beta cells’ function and trigger their eventual destruction. By comparing the beta cells and islets of Langerhans in type 1 diabetics with those who didn’t suffer from the disease, they are finding some answers. Though they still have more work to do, they have found indications of stress and footprints of viral infections in the type 1 tissues.

He adds that they’re identifying the stress pathways that seem to be activated when these beta cells start going downhill. This will help them identify drugs to help the stressed cells, and, if it turns that the first causes are the viral infections, they hope to identify these viruses specifically and create vaccines for them. Listen in to learn more about these steps forward in medical research.

Available on Apple Podcasts: apple.co/2Os0myK

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