Back to Diabetes Basics Research into a Cure - Dr. Denise Faustman

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In a July 2001 article published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, a team of researchers from the Immunobiology Laboratory at Harvard Medical School claimed to reverse established autoimmune diabetes in the NOD mouse by restoring beta cell function through the use of immunomodulation to stop the disease process and spleen cells to create new islets. An additional paper was published in the November 14, 2003 issue of Science. This research captured the imagination of many people in the type 1 community because it appeared to be a novel approach to curing type 1 diabetes. Lee Iacocca, of Chrysler fame, became a champion of Dr. Faustman's work and offered both his name and his money to help bring the research to human clinical trials.

Many in the scientific community expressed skepticism at this work. Scientists questioned the findings, and attempts to reproduce the results did not meet with the same results reported by Dr. Faustman and her team. Other scientists questioned the applicability of a cure in the NOD mouse to human type 1 diabetes, noting that all other successful therapies in the NOD mouse had failed in humans, including part of the process she had used. Major funding organizations, including the JDRF, would not help fund the research.

In March 2006, three separate research teams published the results of trials that were designed to replicate the work of Dr. Faustman. While these studies did show some success, the rates of cure were significantly lower than reported by Dr. Faustman and her team. Furthermore, none were able to show new insulin producing cells derived from spleen cells. The Joslin Diabetes Center has an excellent summary of what these studies mean at Information About the Latest Research Findings on Type 1 Diabetes Published in the Journal Science.

While Faustman, her team, and some others in the diabetes research community see these three studies as vindicating her work, many other scientists do not, especially given the low cure rates, lack of presence of spleen-derived islets, and concerns over the use of CFA, which was part of the initial treatment. However CFA is not part of the plan for human trials -- BCG is -- and some don't care how the additional islets were formed, noting that it's only important that they were. Additional research will no doubt offer more evidence one way or another.

The original July 2001 article can be read at:

The November 2003 article can be read at:

More information about Dr. Faustman's work can be found at the Faustman Lab - News & Updates website and Immunobiology Laboratory Type 1 Diabetes Research at Mass General Hospital. You can also read her online biography. This research is being funded partially by the Iacocca Foundation.

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Last updated June 14, 2015
-- JSH

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