Campus alert status is orange: For the latest campus alert status, news and resources, visit

Search Close Search
Search Close Search
Page Menu

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

Our ultimate goal is a cure for the millions of children and adults currently 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 that cure did not translate to humans.

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 tissue in a human immune setting. We've also developed unique systems to isolate and study individual human islets from donors who had T1D.  


Type 1 Diabetes (T1D)

Individuals with T1D have developed an immune response against their own insulin producing cells (beta cells), which reside in the pancreas. That immune process, once triggered, takes months or even years to kill the beta cells. Once sufficient beta cells have been destroyed, the individual is completely dependent upon injected insulin for the rest of their lives in order to survive. 

Scientific hurdles when researching a cure for T1D

It's extremely difficult to study the insulin producing beta cells in the pancreas of humans where the disease process is occurring. It's dangerous to biopsy the human pancreas, and rodent models do not replicate human T1D. The human disease is different than found in experimental animals.

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

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

Human cells and tissues donated from individuals with T1D are transplanted into our unique mice to observe how that person's beta cells interact with their own immune cells in a "humanized" immune system. Replicating the human disease provides a better understanding of how human immune cells interact with human insulin-producing beta cells. That knowledge will allow us to test preventative strategies and therapies.

Isolated and characterized the immune cells that are attacking and killing human beta cells

Our unique methods of isolating and studying individual human islets from donors who had T1D provides a snapshot of how the cells of a specific person were interacting at the site of the autoimmunity at various stages of the disease process. Examining a specifically 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 the beta cells are dying, and thereby help us to understand the autoimmune attack.  

Perfected techniques for taking human pancreas tissue from deceased donors and isolating both the beta cells and immune cells for further study

Fostered trusting relationships with families afflicted with T1D who donate cells and tissue which are then studied as described above.

Located beta cells that express important immune pathway gene products

Studying the islets of people with T1D, the Harlan and Kent labs definitively put to rest a three decades old debate about whether beta cells express human leukocyte antigen class II.

Partnered with the JDRF New England Research Collaborative

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



Harlan Video Thumbnail.png

"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