Feb. 9 (UPI) -- A new study from Yale University has uncovered the way insulin-producing cells that are destroyed in type 1 diabetes can change and survive.
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease where the immune system destroys beta cells, the cells that produce insulin in the pancreas.
After diagnosis of type 1 diabetes, the pancreas often still produces small amounts of insulin. This period, called the honeymoon period, can last anywhere from weeks to months to years.
Researchers at Yale, in collaboration with the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard University, used mice models to uncover how some beta cells can survive being destroyed by the immune system.
The team identified a sub-population of beta cells that resist attack by the immune system by using a "duck and cover" approach. Cells express molecules that inhibit immune response and gain "stemness," a stem-cell-like ability to revert back to an earlier stage of development where they can persist and grow despite immune attack.
"During the development of diabetes, there are changes in beta cells so you end up with two populations of beta cells," Dr. Kevan Herold, professor of immunobiology and senior author of the study, said in a press release. "One population is killed by the immune response. The other population seem to acquire features that render it less susceptible to killing."
The study, which was published in Cell Metabolism, could lead to strategies to treat type 1 diabetic patients, including testing drugs to potentially modify the beta cell sub-population to create insulin-producing cells.
"The next question is, can we recover these cells so that there is insulin production in someone in type 1 diabetes," Herold said.