Our Strategy to Prevent or Cure Type 1 Diabetes (T1D)

Our ultimate goal is a cure for the millions of children and adults currently living with T1D.  First, we must fundamentally understand the root cause(s) of the disease.  Diabetes was cured in mice in the 1970’s, however it did not translate to humans.  UMass Diabetes Center of Excellence researchers, in collaboration with JAX, have developed “humanized” mice.  These living test tubes allow us to study human tissue in a human immune setting.  With knowledge acquired using our unique tools, we can see how human immune cells interact with insulin-producing beta cells, and test preventative strategies and therapies.  


What is type 1 diabetes?  

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

The Unique UMass Approach: Our scientists and collaborators have...

Developed a "humanized" mouse model to study human cells and tissues 

Human cells and tissues donated from individuals with T1D can be transplanted into our unique mice to see 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 about how humans might react to certain factors.

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

Partnering with world-class stem cell biologists (both within UMass as well as at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute) to manufacture human cells needed to study the process, including:

  • Beta-like cells to make and secrete insulin
  • Immune cells that attack beta cells
  • Thymic epithelial cells which “educate” immune cells what they should and should not 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.