Diabetes Immunology

The Department of Diabetes Immunology, headed by Bart O. Roep, Ph.D., is dedicated to studying immune system mechanisms and their impact on diabetes development and control — particularly type 1 diabetes, which is triggered by an autoimmune reaction against a person’s own insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. A better understanding of these mechanisms can lead to better prevention, detection and treatment strategies for people with, or at-risk for, type 1 diabetes, significantly improving their clinical outcomes and quality of life while reducing the risk of serious complications.

The newly-formed department within the Diabetes & Metabolism Research Institute will utilize a multidisciplinary and highly translational approach to study all facets of immune system function and its impact on beta cells. This includes close collaboration with other departments within the institute, as well as with basic and translational scientists in Beckman Research Institute of City of Hope and physicians in City of Hope clinics. Roep and his team hope that this synergistic relationship will rapidly transform promising findings into novel interventions for type 1 diabetes.

Our Research Highlights:

  • Identifying genetic risk factors: Previous studies show that numerous genes affect type 1 diabetes risk, Roep and his team are currently studying approximately 40 genes with the greatest relevance and how variations in these genes impact immune system sensitivity, type 1 diabetes development and efficacy of different intervention therapies. Successful identification and screening of these gene variations can lead to better prevention and early detection strategies for populations at greatest risk of developing this disease, as well as finding the most effective treatments available for each patient's disease.
  • Understanding immune system’s role: Since type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease, researchers are studying how immune reaction and regulation processes differ in type 1 diabetics, and whether certain environmental factors – such as a viral infection – can upset this balance, triggering the immune system to attack beta cells.
  • Finding immune-based interventions: Roep and his team are currently investigating therapies that target the immune system, the underlying cause of type 1 diabetes. These promising treatments include vaccines, gene therapies and immune cell therapies — all of which can suppress or modulate the immune system’s reactivity to beta cells.
  • Improving islet cell transplantations: Islet cell transplants, in which insulin producing cells from a donor are transfused into a patient, is a promising treatment option for some type 1 diabetics. Roep and his team are currently looking into ways to improve this therapy, specifically how to “negotiate” with the patient’s immune system so that it doesn’t attack the newly-transfused cells. These interventions can improve islet cells transplants outcomes and may even allow the procedure to be successfully performed with fewer cells.

 

Team Members
Bart O. Roep, Ph.D.
Professor and Chair, Department of Diabetes Immunology

Defu Zeng, Ph.D..
Professor

Helena Reijonen, Ph.D.
Associate Professor