A researcher from Missouri-based Saint Louis University has found a novel way to prevent Type I diabetes in an animal model that stops destruction of beta cells and preserves insulin production.

Thomas Burris, chair of pharmacological and physiological science, and his team focused on blocking the autoimmune process that destroys beta cells and leads to diabetes.

“None of the animals on the treatment developed diabetes even when we started treatment after significant beta cell damage had already occurred,” said Burris.

This type of treatment would slow the progression of Type I diabetes in people or potentially even eliminate the need for insulin therapy, he noted.

Scientists already know that at least two types of immune “T-cells” contribute to the development of Type I diabetes.

However, the role of a third type, TH17, remained unclear.

In this study, researchers found that two receptors play critical roles in the development of TH17 cells.

By targeting these receptors, they were able to stop autoimmunity from developing in several mouse models, sparing beta cells.

“The results confirm that TH17 cells likely play a key role in the development of Type I diabetes and suggest that the use of drugs that target this cell type may offer a new treatment for the illness,” the authors said.

Current treatments for Type I diabetes focus on controlling blood sugar with insulin therapy and must continue throughout a person’s life.

The research was published in the journal Endocrinology.