The ability to stop the immune system from attacking pancreatic islet cells is critical for restoring natural insulin production and reaching a biological cure for diabetes. Thanks to recent grants awarded by The Iacocca Foundation, two of the DRI’s scientists who are making important inroads in this critical area will be able to continue their innovative research toward this goal.
Dr. Alice Tomei, research assistant professor of surgery and member of the DRI’s bioengineering team, is investigating ways that cancerous tumors evade destruction by the immune system with the goal of using that “escape mechanism” to protect insulin-producing cells. Dr. Tomei and her team have published key findings in the journal Science demonstrating that tumors secrete the molecule CCL21, which is naturally found in lymph nodes as mechanism of self protection. Armed with this important information, the team has performed additional studies and has found that CCL21 expression in beta cells (the insulin-producing cell component within islets) completely prevents type 1 diabetes in experimental models. The funding award from The Iacocca Foundation will allow Dr. Tomei to build upon this groundbreaking research.
Dr. Peter Buchwald, director of drug discovery, is targeting a recently-identified signaling pathway that leads to autoimmune destruction of insulin-producing cells. He and his team have had promising results in experimental models demonstrating that new-onset diabetes can be reversed by blocking this pathway with a protein known as Smad-7. There is also scientific evidence supporting his theory that the use of Smad-7 not only controls the autoimmune destruction of the islet cells, but can also lead to islet regeneration. With the funding from The Iacocca Foundation, Dr. Buchwald and his team will focus on investigating the possible beta cell-enhancing effects of this treatment with the goal of quickly translating this research to clinical therapies.
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Lori Weintaub, APR