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Research & Strategies to Prevent and Cure Type 1 Diabetes (T1D)

Our ultimate goal is a cure for the millions of people living with type 1 diabetes. First, we must fundamentally understand the root causes of the disease. Diabetes was cured in mice in the 1970’s, however rodent cures do not translate to humans.


Scientific challenges to T1D research

It's extremely difficult to study the insulin-producing beta cells located in the pancreas of where the autoimmune process is occurring. It's dangerous to biopsy the human pancreas, and rodent models do not replicate human T1D.

UMass Diabetes Center of Excellence scientists and collaborators have...

Developed "humanized" mouse models to study human cells & tissues 

UMass Diabetes Center of Excellence (DCOE) co-director Dale Greiner, PhD, developed and improved “humanized” mice, in collaboration with The Jackson Laboratory. These living test tubes allow us to study human cells & tissue in a human immune setting

Perfected techniques for removing human pancreatic tissue from deceased donors and isolating beta cells and immune cells

Slices of human pancreas are obtained from deceased donors who generously donated their organs to science.  We've developed a novel tool to extract islets from pancreatic tissue.  Our scientists study and compare cell types from people of varied demographics and stages of diabetes.

Isolated and characterized the immune cells that are attacking insulin-producing beta cells

Our unique methods of isolating and studying individual human islets provides snapshots of an individual's cells during the autoimmune attack at various stages of the disease process. Examining a diseased human islet, with the immune cells still intact, allows us to investigate the interaction between those human immune cells and beta cells. Identifying immune cell targets and beta cell response will show how beta cells are dying, helping us to understand the autoimmune attack.  

Located beta cells that express important immune pathway gene products

The Harlan and Kent labs definitively put to rest a three decades old debate about whether beta cells express human leukocyte antigen class II.

Observed interactions between human cells and tissues from people with T1D

Human cells and tissue described above are transplanted into our humanized mice to observe how a diabetic's beta cells interact with their own immune cells. Replicating the human disease allows our scientists to investigate how and where the autoimmune attack is occurring.

Partnered with the JDRF New England Research Collaborative to improve beta cell replacement therapy with genetic engineering 

Eleven scientists from leading institutions throughout New England, including UMass DCOE principal investigators, Drs. David Harlan, Dale Greiner, Michael Brehm, Sally Kent & René Maehr are working as a team to genetically modify stem cell-derived islets and camouflage them from autoimmune attack.  The plan is to eliminate the need for immunosuppressant drugs after implantation of those insulin-producing beta-like cells.  

We're collaborating with Harvard Stem Cell Institute, The Jackson Laboratory, Joslin Diabetes Center, and Dana-Farber to transplant the  beta-like cells into our unique humanized mouse models to recreate & study human T1D unlike ever before.  The ultimate goal is to create therapies which can be scaled and eventually go into clinical trials, and ultimately cure diabetes. Meet the JDRF New England research team & learn more about their projects here

DCOE Research Labs


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"The ultimate goal of our basic research is to uncover the clues required to prevent the disease for those at risk, and cure those already diagnosed."
 - David M. Harlan, MD