UT College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences News

Type 1 Diabetes: Following the Cells

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Dr. Marcia McInerney, pictured above with students in her lab, describes her new R15 NIH grant that explores the cellular mechanisms behind type I diabetes.

DIABETES IN AMERICA

Type 1 insulin-dependent diabetes affects some 15 million people worldwide, with three million in the US. More than 15,000 children and 15,000 adults are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes each year in the US. Furthermore, the incidence of type 1 diabetes for children under fourteen years of age is estimated to increase by 3% annually worldwide. In type 1 diabetes, pancreatic beta cells, the only cells in the body that secrete insulin, are destroyed. Because insulin controls the usage of sugar in the body, which allows cells to be fed, glucose levels in the blood and urine rise when insulin is not present, leading to the clinical symptoms of diabetes. Diabetes is controlled by insulin injection; however, secondary complications of diabetes include heart disease, blindness, kidney failure, poor circulation and wound healing, and increased risk of infection. The healthcare cost for type 1 diabetes in the US is close to $15 billion each year.

IMMUNE RESPONSE IN T1D

The immune system, which includes white blood cells or lymphocytes, is responsible for recognizing and destroying foreign invaders such as bacteria and viruses. While the immune system does not normally respond to any self-components, in autoimmune disease, the immune system recognizes some self-tissue as “foreign” and destroys it; this is what happens in type 1 diabetes. In a process called insulitis, lymphocytes enter the islets of Langerhans in the pancreas, where the beta cells, the only cells in the body that produce insulin, live. The lymphocytes destroy the beta cells. Once they are destroyed, the body can no longer make insulin and it must be provided by injections.

Why do lymphocytes move into the pancreas? Insulin binds the insulin receptor, and a signal is given to transport glucose so that cells can be fed, and this overall operation maintains homeostasis. Along with binding insulin and signaling for glucose transport, the insulin receptor also moves in response to chemical stimuli. Therefore, cells that have many insulin receptors on their cell surface can physically move toward insulin. If lymphocytes have receptors for insulin on their surface, insulin secretion might draw lymphocytes to the pancreas and into the islets.

STUDENT INVOLVEMENT

Dr. McInerney has worked on research projects in her laboratory with 11 honor thesis students, 3 students who obtained the summer undergraduate research fellowship, 1 research apprenticeship in science student, 14 undergraduate students with independent research projects or full time internship research, and a high school student whose work in the laboratory won her the Regional and State competition at the Ohio Science Fair. Additionally, Dr. McInerney has been involved with research/teaching of 21 PhD students, including 6 as the major advisor, and 12 master’s students, including 8 as the major advisor. She has also published a number of papers with undergraduate and graduate student authors, with several as first authors.

Students have worked in Dr. McInerney’s laboratory on research supported by NIH, USDA, American Diabetes Association, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, and Diabetes Action Research and Education Foundation. Her new award will directly support and enhance undergraduate and graduate research in her laboratory.

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is the Scientific Editor and College Communicator for The University of Toledo College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. She is a triple alumna of The University of Toledo with master's degrees in English and Education and a graduate certificate in Patient Advocacy.
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