Type I Diabetes

Type I diabetes is an autoimmune disease, where the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.

As a result, the body cannot produce enough insulin to control the level of glucose in the blood. Type I diabetes is usually detected in children and is also known as juvenile diabetes. Although we do not completely understand the cause of type I diabetes, we know that inherited genes play a central role in the susceptibility to this disease. However, monozygotic twins might have very different disease courses, suggesting that environmental factors such as infections are also important in triggering the disease, and in changing its progression. Type I diabetes can be partly controlled by regularly monitoring blood glucose, and by injecting insulin. Over time, however, inadequate control of blood glucose levels may cause many complications, including heart disease, kidney failure, nerve damage, muscle wasting, and early death.

There is no cure for diabetes, and research must focus on replacing the insulin-producing cells, stopping the immune system from attacking the new insulin-producing cells, and finding ways to reverse the ongoing autoimmune response. Torrey Pines Institute scientists are performing research in type I diabetes in each of these areas.

Principal Investigators are working on the following challenges in the area of Type I Diabetes:

  • Understanding how genetic factors control the onset of type I diabetes.
  • Discovering how to grow new insulin-producing cells in the laboratory so they can be transplanted to replace cells destroyed by immune attack.
  • Designing and testing new strategies to re-educate our immune system, so that it no longer recognizes the pancreas as foreign.
Dr. Clemencia Pinilla is investigating the natural peptide antigens that trigger the CD4 T cell autoimmune attack on the pancreas. Their groups have used animal models of Type I diabetes and the Institute’s peptide libraries to optimize and improve antigen discovery tools that could be used to identify antigens in human type I diabetes, as well as in other autoimmune disorders, and infectious diseases.