In 2017, the CDC reported that “more than 100 million Americans have diabetes or prediabetes,” and that it was the seventh leading cause of death in 2015. And as Western diets and lifestyles spread around the world, so does diabetes.

Nutrition aside, the disease has a number of complex causes – yet treatment consists only of insulin and glucose-level management. That’s why Weizmann Institute of Science researchers in a range of disciplines are working to understand the developmental, genetic, immunological, and environmental contributors to diabetes. Given the potential impact of this work on public health, the scientists regularly collaborate with clinicians in order to bring their findings to the patient.

Following are just a few of the forward-thinking diabetes research projects taking place at Weizmann right now.

  • In diabetes, the pancreas is unable to produce enough insulin to keep blood sugar levels normal. Prof. Michael Walker is investigating an exciting approach to treating – and ultimately curing – diabetes: cell replacement therapy, in which functional insulin-producing cells are implanted to restore adequate levels of the hormone.

    However, it’s not currently possible for scientists to generate enough cells for transplantation, meaning that urgent research is needed to understand how pancreatic beta cells are produced in healthy people, and harness this information to treat diabetics. Prof. Walker is researching how such cells develop and fulfill their role of producing insulin at correct levels. He aims make the production process highly efficient and, more importantly, adapt it for use in patients. His ultimate goal is to re-generate the beta cells that are missing or damaged in diabetes.

  • T cells are a type of immune cell that ordinarily attacks invaders, but can contribute to autoimmune disease when they turn on the body by mistake. This is what occurs in type 1 diabetes, wherein T cells attack insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. Prof. Nir Friedman is studying the role of T cells in type 1 in collaboration with doctors at the Schneider Children’s Medical Center and with Clalit Health Systems, Israel’s largest HMO. Clalit has a massive repository of health data – complied over decades from more than four million patients – and this information helps scientists look for causes, contributors, and trajectories of all aspects of many diseases.

    For Prof. Friedman, the Clalit database presents a unique opportunity to identify groups of type 1 patients and reveal T-cell receptor types, or “signatures,” that are specific to different patients. Such signatures can serve as markers for early diagnosis, overall prognosis, and as new therapeutic targets – not only for type 1 diabetes, but for other autoimmune conditions as well. He and his collaborators are using genetic analysis and other techniques as they seek new ways of diagnosing type 1 early – which then also improves patient outcome.

  • Dr. Kobi Abramson and colleagues found a multi-protein complex that plays an important role in inducing and maintaining immune system tolerance. This complex particularly involves a class of T cells called regulatory T-cells, or T-regs. In collaboration with Harvard Medical School, he is now seeking unlock the secret to T-reg cells’ therapeutic potential and develop new approaches for generating T-reg cells capable of re-establishing the tolerance that has broken down in autoimmune disorder patients. By generating genetically modified T-reg cells that are antigen-specific, he aims to identify the most promising approaches for developing into effective therapies for a range of autoimmune disorders – including diabetes.

From basic research to the clinic, Weizmann Institute scientists are invested in finding better ways to prevent, diagnose, and treat diabetes. You can help these dedicated researchers by investing in them.

Improving Health & Medicine

November is Diabetes Awareness Month. How is Weizmann Helping?

E-news, November 2018 • TAGS: Biology, Diabetes, Metabolism, Nutrition

In 2017, the CDC reported that “more than 100 million Americans have diabetes or prediabetes,” and that it was the seventh leading cause of death in 2015. And as Western diets and lifestyles spread around the world, so does diabetes.

Nutrition aside, the disease has a number of complex causes – yet treatment consists only of insulin and glucose-level management. That’s why Weizmann Institute of Science researchers in a range of disciplines are working to understand the developmental, genetic, immunological, and environmental contributors to diabetes. Given the potential impact of this work on public health, the scientists regularly collaborate with clinicians in order to bring their findings to the patient.

Following are just a few of the forward-thinking diabetes research projects taking place at Weizmann right now.

  • In diabetes, the pancreas is unable to produce enough insulin to keep blood sugar levels normal. Prof. Michael Walker is investigating an exciting approach to treating – and ultimately curing – diabetes: cell replacement therapy, in which functional insulin-producing cells are implanted to restore adequate levels of the hormone.

    However, it’s not currently possible for scientists to generate enough cells for transplantation, meaning that urgent research is needed to understand how pancreatic beta cells are produced in healthy people, and harness this information to treat diabetics. Prof. Walker is researching how such cells develop and fulfill their role of producing insulin at correct levels. He aims make the production process highly efficient and, more importantly, adapt it for use in patients. His ultimate goal is to re-generate the beta cells that are missing or damaged in diabetes.

  • T cells are a type of immune cell that ordinarily attacks invaders, but can contribute to autoimmune disease when they turn on the body by mistake. This is what occurs in type 1 diabetes, wherein T cells attack insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. Prof. Nir Friedman is studying the role of T cells in type 1 in collaboration with doctors at the Schneider Children’s Medical Center and with Clalit Health Systems, Israel’s largest HMO. Clalit has a massive repository of health data – complied over decades from more than four million patients – and this information helps scientists look for causes, contributors, and trajectories of all aspects of many diseases.

    For Prof. Friedman, the Clalit database presents a unique opportunity to identify groups of type 1 patients and reveal T-cell receptor types, or “signatures,” that are specific to different patients. Such signatures can serve as markers for early diagnosis, overall prognosis, and as new therapeutic targets – not only for type 1 diabetes, but for other autoimmune conditions as well. He and his collaborators are using genetic analysis and other techniques as they seek new ways of diagnosing type 1 early – which then also improves patient outcome.

  • Dr. Kobi Abramson and colleagues found a multi-protein complex that plays an important role in inducing and maintaining immune system tolerance. This complex particularly involves a class of T cells called regulatory T-cells, or T-regs. In collaboration with Harvard Medical School, he is now seeking unlock the secret to T-reg cells’ therapeutic potential and develop new approaches for generating T-reg cells capable of re-establishing the tolerance that has broken down in autoimmune disorder patients. By generating genetically modified T-reg cells that are antigen-specific, he aims to identify the most promising approaches for developing into effective therapies for a range of autoimmune disorders – including diabetes.

From basic research to the clinic, Weizmann Institute scientists are invested in finding better ways to prevent, diagnose, and treat diabetes. You can help these dedicated researchers by investing in them.