POSTED: Thursday, December 3, 2009 - 12:13pm
UPDATED: Thursday, June 3, 2010 - 11:59pm
Under attack in living color. A high def imaging wall in San Diego is a teaching tool. The lesson: How type one diabetes uses your immune system to destroy critical insulin producing cells.
"You need insulin to stay alive. You need insulin to process the sugars from your food. And if you have no insulin, essentially you will die," Dr. Matthias Von Herrath, a diabetes researcher, said.
The lab assignment: Develop a vaccine powerful enough to stop the disease. Matthias von Herrath has developed a one-two punch that could eliminate the need for traditional treatment options for type-1 diabetes that are often less than ideal.
"With all the ups and downs with the cycles of the insulin and you have to inject it externally. The poor children who have the disease, they have millions of injections, pump changes all these types of things," Dr. Von Herrath said.
Von Herrath is hoping to start strictly monitored clinic trials next year. "Combined therapy tries to strike the right balance. It dampens the immune system but short, just about the right amount. And then it takes a vaccine that re-trains your immune system not to attack your insulin cells," Dr. Von Herrath said.
A new vaccine and a solid foundation for research that could help develop a similar treatment for type two diabetes. "There is a fair amount of inflammation with type 2 diabetes. Tinkering with immune reactivity and inflammation might also benefit type 2 diabetes," Dr. Von Herrath said.
For Von Herrath curing the disease and saving lives is more than work. It's a mission from the heart -- one that honors the memory of a loved one lost too soon. "My father died when I was eight. It was the worst event that you come home one day and your mom tells you your father is gone for good. It was such a traumatic event and he was just lost within a day. I just wanted to understand more in general how diseases develop," Dr. Von Herrath said.
The ultimate goal is to turn the combined therapy into a vaccine that could be part of a child's regular immunization regimen just like the measles or chicken pox. Von Herrath says that would be a dream come true.