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La Jolla Institute for Allergy & Immunology makes cellular movies of type 1 diabetes

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Researchers at the La Jolla Institute for Allergy & Immunology have created the first cellular movies showing the destruction underlying type 1 diabetes in real-time in mouse models.

The institute says this view will provide the worldwide scientific community insights into this disease process and may profoundly affect future directions in type 1 diabetes research.

“We are presenting the first images at cellular resolution of type 1 diabetes as it unfolds,” said Dr. Matthias von Herrath, director of the diabetes research center at the La Jolla Institute for Allergy & Immunology. “Being able to view these insulin-producing cells while they interact in the pancreas, rather than in a static state under the microscope, will greatly enhance our ability – and that of the broader scientific community -- to find interventions for type 1 diabetes.”

The movies can be seen at: www.jci.org/articles/view/59285.

The studies are illuminating cell processes that previously had to be extrapolated from photos, computer modeling or lab experiments.

In the movies, objects resembling ants can be seen furiously scampering about looking for their prey. The “ants” are actually immune system T cells, the body’s cellular soldiers. The “prey” is insulin-producing beta cells, which the T cells mistakenly attack and destroy, eventually leading to type 1 diabetes.

The groundbreaking studies were enabled through the use of a two-photon microscope and a new procedure developed by Dr. von Herrath that allowed the microscope’s use in the pancreas. The pancreas is a small, soft and difficult to access organ that has long presented special challenges for researchers. Up to this point, the scientific community has used the two-photon to study lymph nodes, the liver and other organs in vivo, but never the pancreas.

“The two-photon microscope enables researchers to “see” into living tissues at a much greater depth than conventional imaging methods,” said von Herrath. “It uses intense pulses of light that enable us to monitor interactions of cells without destroying them.”

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