December 7, 2011

Videos of Type 1 Diabetes Developing


If you could watch type 1 diabetes from creation to demise – it would be a harrowing documentary. It was compared to what looks like an ant infestation preying on beta cells. Researchers captured the first cellular movies of this process and may provide valuable insight to the treatment and prevention of type 1 diabetes.

Viewing beta cells interacting in the pancreas will allow researchers to see what they have never seen before with slides under the microscope. This new perspective allows a better understanding of the development of type 1 diabetes. Should you be interested in reading up on the scientific findings of the team, it is available online, along with the movies, on the Journal of Clinical Investigation site.

If you ever wanted to put a visual reference to the autoimmune attack causing type 1 diabetes, the video has successfully made this possible. Imagine objects resembling ants, frantically scampering about looking for their prey. The “ants” are T-cells (immune cells), the body’s cellular soldiers. The “prey” is insulin-producing cells (beta cells), which the T cells mistakenly attack and destroy, eventually leading to type 1 diabetes.

I feel violated reading it that way. I’m actually curious as to whether or not those “ants” are still in my pancreas – since I’ve had type 1 diabetes for 26+ years. Get off me, freeloaders!

Before these videos were made, the scientific community has used this type of filming inside the body to study lymph nodes, the liver and other organs in vivo, but never the pancreas.  Like a match to a flame – I hope this proves to make explosive advancements in type 1 diabetes treatments and prevention.

More than a highly in-depth and detailed visual reference to the autoimmune attack,  researchers were able to identify the specific blood vessels where the T cells (normally none of these reside in the pancreas) enter the pancreas, how the T cells launch an attack and the time sequence of events.

I’m going to have nightmares after reading this, seriously.  Described as a ‘kiss of death’, the T cells move throughout the pancreas until they encounter the beta cells, where they slow down and release toxic substances that eventually kill the beta cells. From start to finish, the destruction of beta cells takes a few hours.  Keep in mind the human pancreas has millions of beta cells – this attack likely goes on for years.

It’s refreshing that the researchers in this study weren’t relying solely on rat studies. In fact, they compared mice experiencing the type 1 diabetes autoimmune attack with that of humans. Interesting finding is that T cell numbers in the human pancreas are thought to be significantly lower than in mice. This may explain why pre-clinical type 1 diabetes is long-lasting for some people who ultimately develop type 1 diabetes.  

 The moral of this story? It may be that the autoimmune attack that caused type 1 diabetes in many people is already ongoing for years before symptoms begin to present. Bearing in mind that usually 90% of beta cells are destroyed before the disease is recognized –  researchers feel that they may need to find a way to prevent the T cells from accessing the pancreas in the first place.

 I’m not pointing a finger but the researchers said that the T cells got into the pancreas in the first place (a place where they are not usually found) by the specific blood vessels. Maybe those blood vessels are the weakest links and should be looked at with a raised eyebrow?