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Experimental peptides prevent diabetes and halt its progression

CHAPEL HILL - Scientists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have used injections of protein fragments to prevent the development of type-I diabetes in a strain of mice that develop the disease. The peptide injections prevented progression to diabetes in animals that were on the verge of clinical disease .

The findings published August 1 in the Journal of Immunology suggest for the first time that peptide-based immunotherapy may prove of clinical value for people at risk of type-I diabetes. This form of diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the body's own immune T cells target and destroy insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas.

"We're taking fragments or peptides of GAD65, a protein produced by beta cells, and using them to divert the immune system, says Dr. Roland Tisch, assistant professor of microbiology and immunology at UNC-CH School of Medicine. Tisch has conducted pioneering diabetes immunotherapy research.

"Our work takes advantage of the highly specific recognition by the immune system of beta cells," the UNC researcher explains. He notes type-I diabetes is thought to involve an imbalance between two types of T cells -- Th1 and Th2.

"Under normal physiological conditions, it's thought there's a functional balance between Th1's and Th2's and that they regulate one another's function and development," Tisch says. "But in type-I diabetes, there appears to be a skewing towards Th1 development. And that's thought to be a contributing factor toward induction and progression of disease."

The new study was aimed at re-establishing that functional balance between Th1 and Th2 in a strain of mice that spontaneously develop diabetes. In a series of experiments, these non-obese diabetic (NOD) mice, 12 weeks old, were given injections of GAD65 peptides. The researchers hoped that some of these might prompt the immune system to produce Th2 cells.

"We were trying to
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Contact: Lynne Wooten
lwooten@unch.unc.edu
919-966-6046
University of North Carolina School of Medicine
1-Aug-1999


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