Type 2 Diabetes: Autoimmune Disease?

Autoimmune DiseaseFor a long time now type 2 diabetes has been considered a metabolic disorder. However, it is now in the process of being classified as a type of autoimmune disease. This is due to recent findings that center treatment on the immune system rather than on the management of glucose levels in the blood. Researchers demonstrated that a specific antibody, anti-CD20, was effective in stopping type 2 diabetes in test animals. Eventually, these lab mice returned to normal levels of blood glucose. This antibody is already used in the United States in treating some cancers and autoimmune diseases. It is marketed under several market names. Studies suggest that it may also be effective as a treatment for diabetes.

The main defining factor in type 2 diabetes is insulin resistance. When this occurs, the body’s insulin receptors do not use insulin as effectively which results in the cells not using up the glucose in the blood. This is different than type 1 diabetes in that the body doesn’t produce insulin in the first place, for any number of reasons. The characterization of diabetes as an autoimmune disease changes completely the way physicians will treat it as well as the way the public perceives obesity issues. This development has also brought closer both types of diabetes, since type 1 diabetes was already considered an autoimmune disease in which the body destroys its own cells in the pancreas (islet cells in charge of producing insulin.) The main cause of insulin resistance is still largely unknown. Medical professionals have so far only identified it as being linked in some way to obese individuals and that it is hereditary in most cases.

Recently, some researchers have started to consider the idea that the immune system may be causing the fat around organs to become inflamed. This kind of inflammation has been demonstrated in lab mice. It is thought that when the fat cells outnumber the available blood supply, they begin to die. In turn, the cells of the immune system end up cleaning up these dead cells and their contents which are disseminated when the cell dies. It is thought that this reaction of the immune system eventually stops the remaining cells from responding effectively to insulin, which in turn results in triglycerides leaving these cells and entering the blood stream. The high levels of fat in the blood result in liver disease, high arterial pressure, metabolic disorders which trigger an increased resistance to insulin which leads to type 2 diabetes.

In some experiments, by blocking the actions of some parts of the immune system in lab mice, researchers discovered that obese mice did not develop diabetes. In further experiments it was discovered that B cells and T cells have an essential role in the pathways that lead to type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance. Studies also suggest that human beings with insulin resistance have developed resistance to many of their own proteins in their immune system. This could result in fantastic new developments in the treatment of type 2 diabetes, including a possible vaccine against this disease.

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