Scientific image

Flow cytometry analysis showing cells generated in the thymus, giving rise to CD4+ CD8- cells (red circle), which will become regulatory T cells (T reg). These are the cells that are being created to target autoimmunity in type 1 diabetes. (Image provided by Juan Carlos Zúñiga-Pflücker.)

A research team funded by Medicine by Design and led by Sunnybrook Research Institute’s Juan Carlos Zúñiga-Pflücker, is working on immune-engineering techniques to enable a treatment for type 1 diabetes.

A cell therapy made from lab-made cells that produce insulin could be used to treat type 1 diabetes by replacing damaged insulin cells. But cell and tissue transplants are often attacked by the immune system. This is why Zúñiga-Pflücker’s team is enhancing a type of immune cell (called a T reg) that can be transplanted along with the insulin-producing pancreatic cells developed in the Cristina Nostro and Sara Nunes Vasconcelos labs.

“What our work is meant to do is enable those transplants to be broadly acceptable so anyone can benefit from transplanted therapies. But the barrier of the immune system is a difficult thing to overcome,” Zúñiga-Pflücker says, adding that the challenge is even greater in diabetes, which is an autoimmune disease.

Head shot of Juan Carlos Zúñiga-Pflücker

Juan Carlos Zúñiga-Pflücker.

Zúñiga-Pflücker is a senior scientist and is also a professor and chair of U of T’s Department of Immunology.

He notes that current immune suppressant drugs that are administered with a cell therapy, which suppress the entire immune system, leave patients vulnerable to infection and illness.

The team’s strategy is to finely tune the immune system to maintain a healthy system while not rejecting a therapeutic transplant. The Medicine by Design team project brings together six labs in this process.

“We can optimize cell types and engineer effective tissues in our separate labs. But if we don’t come together to create better tools to engineer the immune system, these therapies will not be usable. It’s something very fundamental,” says Zúñiga-Pflücker.

Back to “Five ways Medicine by Design is transforming the treatment of type 1 diabetes.”