University of California San Diego School of Medicine researchers were awarded $9 million to fund two multi-institutional research projects that use human pluripotent stem cells, CRISPR, and human organoids to dissect beta cell defects and create a human cell model of type 1 diabetes aimed at identifying the elusive cellular actions leading to disease onset.

The Research

The grants involve two multi-year special statutory grants from the National Institutes of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, and part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), to help build on ongoing research into type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disease that destroys pancreatic beta cells and affects more than 1 million people in the United States.

Pancreatic beta cells, found in groups called islets of Langerhans, help maintain normal blood glucose levels by producing the hormone insulin—the master regulatory of energy (glucose). Impairment and the loss of beta cells reduces insulin production, leading to types 1 and 2 diabetes.

$3.8 million of the grant funds work co-led by Sander and Kyle Gaulton, PhD assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics and the Pediatrics Diabetes Research Center, to decipher the function of genes associated with genetic risk for type 1 diabetes using a high resolution reference map of pancreatic cells. The team is designing the map after receiving an NIH grant in 2018. 

The team will identify genes associated with beta cell function and thereafter will use CRISPR to validate which genes are promoting cell survival and which are causing cell death. This information can then be tested using an islet-on-a-chip (human organoid) being developed with the second $5.1 million of NIH funds to study the immune attack on beta cells in the dish. Human organoids are miniaturized, 3D versions of an organ. Follow the link below to the source link at UC San Diego to read about these research grants in detail.

Lead Research/Investigators

  • Maike Sander, MD, professor Pediatrics and Cellular and Molecular Medicine, UC San Diego
  • Kyle Gaulton, PhD, assistant professor, the Department of Pediatrics and the Pediatrics Diabetes Research Center
  • Karen Christman, PhD, professor in the Department of Bioengineering
  • Luc Teyton, MD, PhD, professor in the Department of Immunology and Microbiology, Scripps Research
  • Steven George, MD, PhD, professor in department of Bioengineering, UC Davis
  • Christopher W.W. Hughes, PhD, professor in Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, UC Irvine
Source: UC San Diego Health

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