Diabetes research is regularly finding out more about the disease that plagues a number of Americans. As is such, researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health have recently uncovered what may turn out to be a clue to better understanding Type 1 diabetes. The research revolves around a molecule known as Tauroursodeoxycholic acid (TUDCA).
"The reason the study is getting a lot of attention is because [Type 1 diabetes] is an autoimmune disease … but in this study we focused on the beta cells," lead author Feyza Engin explained in The Harvard Crimson.1
Based on their own knowledge of beta cells and previous diabetes research, the investigators decided to look at the bigger picture of diabetes.
Basics of the study
In order to learn about the inability of beta cells to perform appropriately in Type 1 diabetes, researchers looked at both samples of the human pancreas and mouse models. Specifically, the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) of the cells was focused on. This is a part of the cell that processes lipids and proteins before they are transported to other parts of the body. The ER is vital to proper functioning beta cells.
Results of the study indicated that samples with Type 1 diabetes experienced compromised ER function due to immune attack caused by disease. As a result, beta cells were destroyed, leading to insulin insufficiency.
"The study is exciting because it suggests that improving ER function before the onset of disease could reduce T1D incidence," Engin said in a statement.2
What this means
Authors of the study then administered TUDCA to the samples they were working with. This molecule had been seen to reduce ER stress for Type 2 diabetes in previous research. When administered to mice, ER function improved and successfully prevented the onset of Type 1 diabetes. So, although the new findings do not offer a cure for the disease, it may be successful in avoiding its onset. Moving forward, Engin and colleagues would like to conduct further investigations on the subject. This may include using TUDCA in human participants to see if the results are the same.
1 The Harvard Crimson, "Harvard researchers find potential clue to solving Type 1 diabetes" December 2, 2013
2 Harvard School of Public Health, "Newly discovered mechanism suggests novel approach to prevent Type 1 diabetes" November 13, 2013