NEW YORK (AP) - Scientists say they have identified a key chemical player in the development of the most severe kind of diabetes, a step that might help in prevention.
The study, done in mice, pertains to Type 1 diabetes, which is treated with daily insulin shots. The disease, also known as juvenile diabetes, appears after the immune system mistakenly attacks insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. Nobody knows what triggers the attacks.
Scientists have been trying to identify the precise targets of the attack in hopes of developing a vaccine-like treatment to prevent the destruction.
The new work identified a small bit of the insulin molecule as a target for some white blood cells involved in the destruction. That supports current studies in humans to see whether giving tiny amounts of insulin to healthy people at risk of getting diabetes will prevent the disease by training the immune system to ignore the target, researchers said.
It will take more study to see whether using the entire insulin molecule or just a bit of it would work better, said Dr. F. Susan Wong of the Yale School of Medicine. She and colleagues present the work in the September issue of the journal Nature Medicine.
In May, other researchers identified a protein called glutamic acid decarboxylase as a key target of attack. That protein and the newly identified insulin fragment are among the front-running candidates for development of a preventive treatment, said Dr. Robert Goldstein, vice president of research at the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation.