Researchers think they may be a step closer to understanding why type 1 diabetes occurs, which could lead to the development of new treatments.
A Swiss team of experts from Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) say they might know why pancreatic beta cells, which produce insulin, are attacked by immune cells, which results in type 1 diabetes.
It is thought the problem might occur when certain types of proteins, which are released from the pancreas itself, are attacked.
They also think that exosomes, the name given to the small vesicles that package the proteins, could be a contributing factor.
Exosomes are secreted by all cell types and their role is to distribute various molecules throughout the body. Previous research has indicated that exosomes can also kick-start the immune system, which is why researchers wanted to further investigate their function.
The study, which was led by Steinunn Baekkeskov of EPFL’s Institute of Bioengineering, showed that healthcare professionals use three specific proteins to diagnose the onset of type 1 diabetes.
These proteins are released from rat and human pancreatic beta cells and when exposed to stress, more exosomes were produced which were “decorated” with proteins that kick-started the immune cells.
It is these proteins which the researchers think might be behind the start of the disease.
The findings, published in the Diabetes journal, could help find more effective treatments for the condition in the future.
These treatments will likely focus on developing exosome mimics that inhibit molecules from stimulating immune cells. These could then be absorbed by a patient’s immune cells and prevent the destruction of insulin-producing cells.

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