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Physician-Scientist Jennifer Wang Uses Stem-Cell Derived Beta Cells to Study the Effects of Viral Infections on Type 1 Diabetes Development

Date Posted: Wednesday, June 17, 2020
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Imaging by Basanthi Satish

Type 1 diabetes (T1D) is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s insulin-producing beta cells are attacked and ultimately destroyed, resulting in the inability of the pancreas to generate insulin. Although the cause of T1D is not yet fully understood, enteroviral infections have long been suspected to be a contributing factor.

Enteroviruses encompass a group of viruses that give rise to infectious illnesses which are usually mild. However, if enteroviruses such as coxsackievirus infect the central nervous system or heart, they can cause serious illness. Enteroviral infections are also associated with T1D, but how they contribute to this disease is not well understood.

Jennifer Wang, MD, a Diabetes Center of Excellence (DCOE) researcher in the University of Massachusetts’ division of Infectious Diseases and Immunology, conducted a collaborative study to better understand events associated with enteroviral infection of beta cells. “It’s important to study how beta cell damage occurs in order to development new treatments,” said Dr. Wang. “We found that human stem-cell derived beta cells behave much like those from the human pancreas.”

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The team, consisting of scientists from the UMass DCOE, Eastern Virginia Medical School and New York Medical College, investigated how human stem-cell derived beta cells behave when challenged with coxsackievirus. “Stem-cell derived beta cells are important and accessible system for understanding virus-driven immunology and beta cell dysfunction in the etiology of diabetes,” added Dr. Wang. “That’s why we’re using them to investigate our unique models of virus-induced type 1 diabetes.”

The results of the study titled “Proteomic and Transcriptional Profiles of Human Stem Cell-Derived Beta Cells Following Enteroviral Challenge,” was published in the microbiology journal Microorganisms. The full article can be found here.

Related Story: Jennifer Wang receives funding grant to continue studying how viruses trigger type 1 diabetes and identify immune responses leading to T1D

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