Have Boston Researchers Found Type 1’s Root Cause?

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Will people with type 1 diabetes ever see an end to their need for insulin?

For adults, that prospect doesn’t seem too likely. But new research from Boston Children’s Hospital generates genuine hope that by the time they are grownups, the 215,000 children in the United States currently living with type 1 diabetes will be able put away their insulin kits for good.

Researchers there have found what they believe is the root cause of type 1 diabetes: A molecular pathway, called ATP/P2X7R, triggers immune system attacks on the pancreas, making it unable to produce insulin.

The study started out as an attempt to determine why the body rejects pancreatic cells, either as a misguided immune system attack on a person’s own cells or on transplanted cells. “In order to truly cure diabetes, we needed to pinpoint exactly why this happens,” said lead researcher Dr. Paolo Fiorina of the Nephrology Division at Boston Children’s Hospital. 

Identification of the molecular pathway that leads to type 1 diabetes is only a first step.

 “With the cause identified, we can now focus on treatment options. Everything from drug therapies to transplants that require less immunosuppression is being explored,” said Fiorina in the Boston Children’s Hospital’s online blog. Later, treatment will focus on outright prevention.

If successful therapies emerge from the Boston research, type 1s ultimately could put away their insulin. “Insulin injections can manage hyperglycemia by reducing the patient’s glucose levels, but they are not the cure,” said Fiorina.

Even with insulin injections, type 1 patients deal with a host of long-term complications ranging from kidney and heart disease to blindness, making the treatment less important than determining the reason why the body stops producing insulin in the first place.

The research is currently being tested on animals, specifically mice, with human testing still several years away. Research results first appeared late last year in Diabetes, the journal of the American Diabetes Association.

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