The Role of Viruses in Diabetes

April 28, 2014 College News -  The Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) has received a five-year, $1.9 million grant to study the role of viruses in pancreatic beta cell damage in diabetes.

John Corbett, Ph.D., professor and chairman of biochemistry at MCW, is the primary investigator on the grant.  Dr. Corbett first began exploring the connection between viruses and beta cell death in 1999; this award paves the way for him to take the next steps in his research.

Pancreatic beta cells store and release insulin, the hormone that regulates blood sugar.  In diabetes, the beta cells are destroyed and the body loses its ability to create insulin, which leads to wide swings in blood glucose levels.  Autoimmune diabetes, also known as insulin-dependent diabetes, is characterized by an inflammatory reaction in the pancreas that is followed by the death of the beta cells.

Virus infection is one agent that has been suggested to cause diabetes.  In this project, a mouse model will be generated to explore the role of virus infection in the induction of autoimmune diabetes.  Dr. Corbett’s research team will also study the signaling pathways that are responsible for the beta cell damage in the disease.

Ultimately, by preventing the death of pancreatic beta cells, the progression of diabetes would be halted.  The knowledge gleaned in this project could potentially lead to new therapeutic approaches and targets to prevent the disease.

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