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Sick Kids researchers pinpoint link between diabetes and nervous system autoimmunity

TORONTO - Researchers at The Hospital for Sick Children (HSC) and the University of Toronto (U of T) have extended their earlier discovery of an unsuspected link between Type 1 diabetes and nervous system autoimmunity, such as that found in multiple sclerosis (MS). This research has identified new therapeutic targets for diabetes prevention, and a strategy for diagnostic tests for early detection of diabetes risk. The research is described in the February issue of the scientific journal Nature Medicine, available online on January 21, 2003.

The research group of HSC's Dr. Michael Dosch traced the link between Type 1 diabetes and nervous system autoimmunity to nervous tissue surrounding insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. They unexpectedly found that it is these nervous system structures that are first destroyed in the earliest stages of diabetes, with autoimmunity subsequently veering off to attack insulin-producing cells. Modification of the early nervous tissue attack prevented subsequent diabetes in the major animal model for the disease.

"This study maps the puzzling link between Type 1 diabetes and nervous system autoimmunity," said Dr. Dosch, the study's principal investigator, an HSC senior scientist and a professor of Paediatrics and Immunology at U of T. "In focusing previous research efforts strictly on insulin-producing beta cells, we may have missed the start of the diabetes process in its early, perhaps earliest, stages. The new data may shed a different light on the process, providing new targets for preventive treatments and new, early markers for the detection of disease risk, a prerequisite for intervention treatments."

Dr. Dosch's research group used a vaccine-type approach to alter autoimmunity against the pancreatic nervous system cells in mice, and they observed that subsequent diabetes development was reduced by a large margin. This implied a critical role of early neuronal autoimmunity in the process that eve
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Contact: Laura Greer
laura.greer@sickkids.ca
416-813-5046
University of Toronto
20-Jan-2003


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