Diabetes Unit

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Immunobiology Laboratory Type 1 Diabetes Research

The Mass General Immunobiology Laboratory conducts basic and translational research focused on discovering novel treatments for autoimmune diseases, with a specific focus on type 1 diabetes.

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OverviewThe Immunobiology Laboratory investigates treatments that permanently eliminate the underlying disease in autoimmunity, with a focus on type 1 diabetes. Under the direction of Denise Faustman MD PhD, the laboratory has pursued the reversal of established autoimmunity as the prerequisite to successful treatment of type 1 diabetes and other autoimmune diseases.

Basic ResearchOur research found that in non-obese diabetic (NOD) mice and in diabetic humans, autoreactive (bad) T cells have a defect (disruption of the NFkB signaling pathway) that makes them sensitive to death in the presence of elevated levels of tumor necrosis factor (TNF).

In a major breakthrough published in 2001 in the Journal of Clinical Investigation and in 2003 in Science, Dr. Faustman and colleagues used a brief, non-toxic treatment to induce TNF in end-stage diabetic mice. This therapeutic approach permanently eliminated their autoimmunity, restored normoglycemia, and precipitated the regeneration of insulin-producing cells. The insulin secreting cells in the pancreas are clustered and are sometimes called isletsClinical ResearchA human clinical trial initiated in January 2008 is now being conducted based on this approach to reversing type 1 diabetes.  The trial will evaluate whether treatment with BCG vaccination can eliminate the abnormal T cells in subjects with Type 1 diabetes.  Most type 1 diabetic trials with immune interventions are nearly exclusively conducted in only new onset diabetics. This trial is unique in the testing is being conducted in type 1 diabetics with established diabetes. The trials are also unique in testing diabetes reversal using an inexpensive generic drug.

More information about this trial

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Your tax-deductible donation to the Program to Cure Diabetes is a critical part of our progress.

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Group Leader

Denise Faustman, MD PhD, is currently Director of the Immunobiology Laboratory at Massachusetts General Hospital and an Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. She has spent over a decade researching the nature of the molecular defect in T-cells that results in the development of autoimmunity. This work led her to discover a novel way to treat diabetic mice, accomplishing in 2001 for the permanent reversal of established diabetes. Currently, Dr. Faustman’s laboratory is working on strategies for applying this method to treat human type 1 diabetes and to explore the applicability of this process in other autoimmune diseases, including Crohn’s disease, lupus, scleroderma, Sjogren’s syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, and multiple sclerosis..

Dr. Faustman’s earlier research accomplishments include the first introduction of the concept of modifying the antigens on donor tissues to prevent their rejection, a scientific accomplishment that is now in human clinical trials for diverse human diseases treatable with cellular transplants. After completing her internship, residency, and fellowships in Internal Medicine and Endocrinology at Mass General, Dr. Faustman became an independent investigator at Mass General and Harvard Medical School in 1987. She is a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and frequently serves in an advisory capacity to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies in Washington, DC.

Honors
  • 2006 Oprah Achievement Award, Top Health Breakthrough by a Female Scientist
  • Women in Science Award, American Medical Women's Association and Wyeth Pharmaceutical Company
  • 2005 National Institutes of Health and the National Library of Medicine, "Changing the Face of Medicine." 2003 | One of 300 American physicians honored for achievement in medicine.

Basic Science Programs
The Immunobiology Laboratory investigates mechanisms used by the immune system to allow the survival of  autoimmune T cells with the normal T cells. The laboratory is also working to identify drugs that kill the autoimmune T cells but not normal T cells. The laboratory is also working to characterize the proteins in splenic stem cells from the mouse and the human that may contribute to pancreas regeneration, a consequence of targeted T cell removal.

Autoimmunity Programs
Dr. Faustman's 15 year research program on autoimmunity has utilized comparisons of proteins and cells between affected and unaffected identical human twins or disease disparate mice with autoimmune diabetes. This has led to the discovery of antigen presenting cells, defects in MHC class I presentation of self-peptides, altered NFkB activation/regulation and hampered resistance to cytokine induced apoptosis, also known as T cell death. These protein processing defects are specific to the diseased cell of the diabetic. These traits have successfully been used as therapies to permanently reverse disease in spontaneously diabetic mice. The long-term follow-up of these mice reveals restored normoglycemia is due to the regeneration of the pancreas.

Type 1 Diabetes Clinical Translational ProjectAlong with David Nathan, MD PhD,  Dr. Faustman and colleagues are undertaking a program of research aimed at developing a curative therapy for human type 1 diabetes. This project consists of three major parts:
Studies in the NOD MouseStudies in the NOD mouse are being conducted to refine and optimize therapies to eliminate type 1 diabetes in humans. Dr Faustman's studies were the first to show permanent reversal of type 1 diabetes in end stage diabetic mice.

Bioassay Development and AutomationThis new bioassay (also known as a blood test) will be used to evaluate how well a potential diabetes therapy works in eliminating the "bad" T cells in type 1 diabetes. It will also be used to establish the best dose and timing of the BCG trials in humans.

BCG Human Clinical TrialThis Phase I human clinical trial will determine whether treatment with bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccination can eliminate the abnormal white blood cells in patients with type 1 diabetes. This trial is FDA approved.
More information about the BCG human trial:

Generic Drug Screening Program for Autoimmune DiseaseUsing the BCG human trial as a model for the re-evaluation of therapies for specific diseases, the Immunobiology Laboratory is employing a parallel strategy to host a screening program to find appropriate generic drugs that can be recycled for new clinical indications in autoimmune diseases including lupus, Crohn's disease, rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, multiple sclerosis, and Sjögren's syndrome.

Dedicated to a Cure

Your tax-deductible donation to the Program to Cure Diabetes is a critical part of our progress.

Donate Now
Publications View all Publications in PubMed

View recent publications from the Immunobiology Lab at Mass General. Some full text publications may require a subscription.

Diabetes Unit Immunobiology Laboratory

Building 149
149 13th Street
Room 3602
Charlestown, MA 02129

Phone: 617-726-4084
Fax: 617-726-4095
Email: diabetestrial@partners.org
Hours: 9:00 am - 5:00 pm

Public Transportation Access: yes
Disabled Access: yes

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Have a Question or Need More Information? Contact Us.Contact our clinical trials coordinator to learn more about our research or schedule an appointment.

Melissa Pierre
mpierre19@partners.org
Phone: 617-726-4084
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