Diabetes comes in a variety of different forms. The most common form of the disease, type 2 diabetes, results from cells in the body not using insulin as well as they should. Type 1 diabetes (T1D), however, is much rarer, and results when the body simply can’t produce its own insulin at all. People who have this condition must take part in insulin therapy and other treatments in order to live a full and healthy life.
Scientists from Uppsala University have investigated the disease thoroughly, and believe that a certain protein found in the body could potentially provide a cure.
The protein in question is called interleukin-35 (IL-35), and it is made of immune cells. Dr. Kailash Singh, who is a PhD student at Uppsala University, began studying this immune cell when she was examining T1D in rat models. In her research, she found that immune regulatory T-cells in the models were producing pro-inflammatory destructive proteins instead of IL-35, which is an anti-inflammatory protein.
This reversal is the exact opposite of what should be happening in a normal body, and Singh believes that it may be something that is prompted by T1D.
“This suggests that the good guys (the anti-inflammatory proteins) have gone bad in early development of Type 1 diabetes and therefore our immune cells destroy the beta cell,” she said.
As a result of this destructive process, Singh found that the levels of IL-35 that should have been present in the models were much lower than they should be. These low levels indicate that the protein may play a crucial role in stopping T1D.
The research team that Singh was a part of, which was led by Professor Stellan Sandler, set out to find if IL-35 could suppress or reverse T1D, even if the disease was already established. The team utilized mice who had been injected with a chemical that induced symptoms of T1D. After the symptoms had been established for two days, the researchers injected them with IL-35 to see if their blood glucose levels normalized.
Their findings show that the blood glucose levels in the mouse models stabilized after they were given the injections. In addition to this finding, the researchers were also able to test IL-35 injections against a specific model of T1D, called non-obese diabetic mouse (NOD). Even after the IL-35 treatments were stopped, diabetic symptoms did not return in any of the subjects.
"To the best of our knowledge, we are the first to show that IL-35 can reverse established Type 1 diabetes in two different mouse models and that the concentration of the particular cytokine is lower in Type 1 diabetes patients than in healthy individuals. Also, we are providing an insight into a novel mechanism: how immune regulatory T cells change their fate under autoimmune conditions", said Singh.