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Healthy Living

Diabetes vaccine

Research finds trigger for childhood diabetes

Researchers have taken a critical step toward a vaccine to prevent childhood diabetes by isolating in mice a gene that causes the body to attack and kill tissue that produces insulin.

Using a strain of rodent, called the nonobese diabetic mouse, that always gets diabetes, a team led by Dr. Ji-Won Yoon showed that the presence of the gene GAD is what causes the body's immune system to kill the insulin-producing cells.

Yoon, at the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada, is lead author of a study appearing in May, 1999 in the journal Science.

"We found that if we suppress GAD expression in the pancreatic cells, then we can prevent diabetes," Yoon said. "It is that simple."

In the mouse, when the GAD gene is active, it expresses or causes the cell to make, a protein called glutamic acid decarboxylase. When GAD protein is circulating in the body, the immune system attacks as if it were a foreign substance. Killer T-cells from the immune system also attack the insulin-producing beta cells that have the Gad gene.

This kills the beta cells, which means the body no longer has insulin needed to process sugar in the blood. The result is Type I diabetes.

Type I diabetes frequently is diagnosed in childhood, forcing patients to spend their lives taking up to four insulin shots a day.

About 29,000 new cases of Type I diabetes are diagnosed annually in the United States. The Juvenile Diabetes Foundation estimates that about 1 million Americans are being treated for Type I diabetes.

Yoon said it might be possible to prevent Type I diabetes with a vaccine that would desensitize the immune system to the presence of the GAD gene. He said such a vaccine would educate the immune system to not attack pancreatic cells that have the GAD gene.

Yoon said that it will take 10 to 15 years ot develop such a vaccine because researchers would have to prove that manipulating the GAD gene would not be dangerous.

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