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UMass DCOE Scientist Sally Kent Contributed to a Published Article About the Autoimmune Process of Type 1 Diabetes

Date Posted: Thursday, July 09, 2020

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When a person is diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D), they’ve developed an immune response against their own insulin producing cells, called beta cells, which reside in the pancreas. Their body’s immune cells, called T cells, attack and destroy their own beta cells, thus requiring daily insulin injections in order to live.

That immune process, once triggered, takes months or even years to kill the beta cells.  Within the Diabetes Center of Excellence at UMass Medical School, the laboratory of Sally C. Kent, PhD, the George F. and Sybil H. Fuller Foundation Term Chair in Diabetes, studies the autoimmune response in human T1D, to understand how T cells are destroying beta cells.  Her lab examines immune cells directly from the source of pathology in human T1D

Human diabetes is different than the disease found in experimental animals. It's extremely difficult to study the insulin producing beta cells in the pancreas of humans, which is where the disease process is occurring. It's dangerous to biopsy the human pancreas, and rodent models simply do not replicate human T1D, so Dr. Kent studies cells and tissues obtained from deceased donors with T1D.

The Kent Lab is credited with uncovering new information about how autoreactive T cells target beta cells in the islets of Langerhans (pancreatic islets).  Dr. Kent is encouraged that her breakthrough will contribute to the design of therapies for people living with T1D.

Dr. Kent is one of the authors of a published Perspective article in the July 2020 journal Diabetes, titled “T-Cell Epitopes and Neo-epitopes in Type 1 Diabetes: A Comprehensive Update and Reappraisal.

T cells come in two major types: cytotoxic or killer T cells (called CD8) and helper T cells (called CD4).  Both types of T cells ‘see’ or recognize peptides from beta cells that are ‘presented’ on the surface of cells or by specialized cells of the immune system. The T cells then damage the beta cells, leading to T1D.

“Much effort has gone into understanding what both CD4 and CD8 T cells are ‘seeing’ in autoimmune T1D,” said Dr. Kent.  “This Perspective article updates and reappraises what scientists specifically have found in the last 30 plus years of examining this autoreactive T cells response.”

Diabetes researchers recently found new classes of these target peptides that may help to understand the autoimmune response more fully in T1D.  Scientists have also been able to examine T cells infiltrating the islets in donors with T1D.  Both findings are included in the Diabetes article. 

sally-kent-diabetes-journalIt was written to provide fellow researchers with a common resource for examining these T cell targets, and potentially utilizing the targets and T cells in biomarkers to assess risk of developing T1D, monitoring disease progression, and potential therapies.

The Diabetes article is a collaboration between Teresa DiLorenzo, PhD at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Roberto Mallone at University of Paris Cochin Institute, Eddie James at Benaroya Research Institute, Sally Kent at UMass Medical School Diabetes Center of Excellence, and as part of the efforts of the Immunology of Diabetes Society’s T Cell Workshop. 

More Diabetes Center of Excellence News