A ‘paradigm shift’ may have been identified regarding scientists’ approach to developing treatments for type 1 diabetes.
US researchers report that type 1 diabetes could be delayed following a study on animals where certain defective cells were removed.
Prior to this trial, studies have focused on preserving beta cells, which are needed to produce insulin, to delay the onset of type 1 diabetes.
But now, the study team from the University of California in San Francisco say they have evidence to suggest clearing out these cells could be far more effective.
Lead author Professor Anil Bhushan said: “This is a paradigm shift for T1 diabetes therapy. This data suggests the problem may not be an immune system gone awry. Instead, perhaps therapies should find a way to do the job the immune system is failing to do: clear the senescent (deteriorating) cells early on.”
Prof Bhushan and colleagues hypothesise that type 1 diabetes is attributable to secretory senescence, the name given to a process where pancreatic beta cells stop working and leak signs of their damage onto neighbouring cells.
The team believes this process sends the immune system into overdrive, damaging the insulin-producing structure beyond repair.
They tested their theory in mice engineered to develop type 1 diabetes, and the animals responded to a cancer drug called Venetoclax which is used to clear up senescent cells before they cause more damage elsewhere.
Researcher Ajit Shah, who also worked on the study, said: “These findings support the idea that senescent beta cells are like the bad apples that spoil the whole basket.
“Here we show that eliminating the bad apples can save the rest, which brings a new therapeutic avenue for treating patients with T1 diabetes.”
The findings will need to be replicated in humans before any progress can be made regarding future treatments, so it is still early days. However, this is an exciting approach that could yet lead to significant changes regarding how scientists view treating and preventing type 1 diabetes.
The results have been published in the journal Cell Metabolism.

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