Significant Type 1 Diabetes Finding

Discovering a New “Attacker” Cell

BRI researcher Karen Cerosaletti, PhD, and colleagues applied single-cell science to better understand type 1 diabetes, and ended up with some surprising and significant findings.

image description BRI researcher Karen Cerosaletti, PhD

The team discovered that patients with type 1 diabetes have a unique set of T cells that have grown and multiplied, increasing the numbers of “bad” cells that can attack the pancreas. These unique T cells are rare in healthy individuals, but exist in significantly higher numbers in patients with type 1 diabetes.

The information can be used to decode the “bad” cells and find out what makes them tick.

Cerosaletti and the team were able to make the discoveries thanks to a breakthrough from the lab of BRI’s William Kwok, PhD, to capture the T cells from among thousands of other cells in a drop of blood. That method — paired with a pioneering new technology called single-cell RNA sequencing — allows scientists to study individual cells in extraordinary detail.

image description Dr. Cerosaletti (left) and her team

The information can be used to decode the “bad” cells and find out what makes them tick. These T cells are part of an army that attacks the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, destroying them so they can’t make insulin anymore.

Dr. Cerosaletti and her team are now working to understand when these unique T cells appear. If they can be found before a patient develops symptoms of type 1 diabetes, the presence of these cells could be used to monitor disease progression — or, better yet, serve as a target for treatments to preserve the body’s ability to produce insulin.

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