Inhibiting A Protein May Prevent Onset of Type 1 Diabetes in Children

Results from a new study indicate that decreasing levels of a certain protein in the blood could help prevent the onset of type 1 diabetes in children.

In type 1 diabetes, the body’s immune system inexplicably begins targeting and destroying insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.  Insulin is necessary to absorb glucose in the blood and carry out a number of bodily functions important for survival.

Georgia Health Sciences University researchers are examining blood levels of a protein called interleukin-1 receptor antagonist, or IL-1ra, in children who have been identified as high-risk candidates for type 1 diabetes.  They are also looking at mice that are missing the protein to see if the deficiency lowers the rate in which the immune system destroys the insulin-producing cells.

They hope to use IL-1ra levels to identify children who are at risk of developing the disease and then use IL-inhibitors to prevent the onset of it, according to Dr. Sharad Purohit, biochemist in the GHSU Center for Biotechnology and Genomic Medicine.

IL-inhibitors are already sued to treat rheumatoid arthritis, where inflammation destroys joints.  Researchers believe the inhibitor might also be able to halt the destruction of insulin-producing cells.

Rather than improving conditions for those living with type 1 diabetes, the researchers are more interested in preventing the disease entirely.

Type 1 diabetes usually presents by puberty, and by the time the first symptoms occur, such as increased appetite and dramatic weight loss, as many as 90 percent of the cells may be destroyed.  This leads to a lifetime of insulin dependency and other complications such as cardiovascular damage and vision loss.