New Discovery

Type 1 Diabetes
Principal Investigator Karen Cerosaletti, PhD, and colleagues have applied single-cell science to better understand type 1 diabetes with some surprising and significant findings. “Scientists have known for many years that immune cells called T cells are some of the bad cells in type 1 diabetes,” she says. “These T cells are part of an army that attacks the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, destroying them so they can’t make insulin anymore.

"Thanks to breakthrough discoveries made at BRI by Dr. Kwok’s lab, these rare destructive T cells from the thousands of other cells in a drop of blood can be captured. The method for capturing the T cells is paired with a pioneering new technology called single cell RNA sequencing. This technique allows BRI scientists to study these cells – one cell at a time in extraordinary detail. The information can be used to decode the bad cells and find out what makes them tick.

"We discovered that patients with type 1 diabetes have a unique set of T cells"

“Using these techniques, we discovered that patients with type 1 diabetes have a unique set of T cells that have grown and multiplied, increasing the numbers of bad cells that can attack the pancreas, Dr. Cerosaletti explains. “These unique T cells are rare in healthy individuals, but exist in significantly higher numbers in patients with type 1 diabetes. Without this innovative technology, we wouldn’t have been able to discover this.”

Karen Cerosaletti, PhD, and colleagues discovered a unique T cell that is very destructive in type 1 diabetes.
Karen Cerosaletti, PhD, and colleagues discovered a unique T cell that is very destructive in type 1 diabetes.
Karen Cerosaletti, PhD,; Research Technician Janice Chen; and Postdoctoral Fellow Elisa Balmas, PhD; discuss a computer plot showing the similarities among the harmful T cells.
Karen Cerosaletti, PhD,; Research Technician Janice Chen; and Postdoctoral Fellow Elisa Balmas, PhD; discuss a computer plot showing the similarities among the harmful T cells.


Dr. Cerosaletti and her team are now working to understand when these unique T cells appear. “Can we find them before a patient actually has symptoms of type 1 diabetes?” she asks. “Do they change as the disease progresses? If so, then we may be able to use these cells to predict or monitor diabetes in each individual. And even more importantly, we may be able to target these bad cells through treatment to destroy or disarm them, halting destruction of the cells in the pancreas and preserving their ability to produce insulin. This would be a huge advance in our fight against type 1 diabetes.”