Master Switches at Work: The Role of Regulatory T Lymphocytes in Controlling Autoimmune Diabetes
Type 1 insulin-dependent diabetes (T1D) is a chronic disorder. It results from a defective immunoregulatory mechanism and leads to the autoimmune destruction of insulin-producing beta (ƒO) islet cells of Langerhan in the pancreas. This, in turn, creates insulin deficiency, persistent hyperglycemia, and long-term complications. T1D accounts for 10 percent of all cases of diabetes in Canada, and its complications engender grave socio-economic consequences. Currently, it is not curable and can only be treated by insulin-replacement therapy.
Canada Research Chair Dr. Ciriaco Piccirillo is an immunologist who is working toward finding a cure. He conducts research into the cellular and molecular mechanisms of autoimmune disease protection mediated by specialized white blood cells found in lymphoid tissues called CD4+CD25+ regulatory lymphocytes. Although the role played by CD4+ regulatory lymphocytes in preventing autoimmunity has become clearer, the factors influencing their development and survival has not and this is where Dr. Piccirillo¡¦s research is critical. By learning more about the regulatory mechanisms that govern resistance to autoimmunity, he will be contributing to the search for better ways to treat people suffering from autoimmune diseases such as T1D.
It is now known that CD4+CD25+ regulatory T lymphocytes represent the master switch in dampening and preventing the onset of T1D. In his research, Dr. Piccirillo is further unravelling their role in controlling T1D and other autoimmune diseases. In addition, he is studying the genetic and biochemical pathways required for the development and function of these T lymphocytes, and their potential contributions to T1D susceptibility. Ultimately, his research program will help lead to novel therapeutic strategies to multiply regulatory T cell activity and prevent T1D, as well as other autoimmune and chronic inflammatory diseases.