Matthias von Herrath, M.D. serves as Director of the Center for Type 1 Diabetes Research in addition to being a full Professor in the Division of Developmental Immunology. Dr. von Herrath and his team study why the immune system sometimes attacks the body's own cells. They focus on type 1 diabetes, a disease caused by the immune system attacking the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas, and on diseases caused by viral infections. Their goal is to develop and evaluate new treatments and therapies for these conditions, in particular immune-based interventions.
The laboratory has found that stimulating the immune system with beta cell proteins via DNA vaccines results in a beneficial, or regulatory, immune response that can prevent type 1 diabetes. The DNA vaccines are currently being developed for the clinic in collaboration with BayHill therapeutics.
In addition, Dr. von Herrath's team is studying how introducing immune response modifiers, such as small molecules named "cytokines" or certain antibodies, get the immune system back on track, stopping it from attacking the body's own cells. His laboratory is collaborating with a major diabetes consortium in the United States and Australia, supported in part by the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation and the Medical Research Council in Australia, on developing this strategy. This approach has proved effective in animals in an advanced stage of type 1 diabetes, and the hope is that this will translate to human patients.
Viral infections and the diseases they cause can be modulated through similar pathways. In parallel to the approach followed by the laboratory for type 1 diabetes, the focus is on developing treatments that will be effective after the infection has occurred.
Type 1 Diabetes is characterized by autoreactive T cells that attack and degrade Insulin-producing b-cells in the Pancreas leading to hyperglycemia. Viral infections are linked to this process in different ways, for good and for bad: as some viruses are believed to be the trigger of autoreactive T cells and thus initiate disease onset, other viruses have shown to mediate protection from the disease. Although the underlying mechanisms of these observations remain largely unknown, some viruses have been shown to increase the numbers of a T cell subset (called regulatory T cells) that is known to suppress autoreactive T cells and thereby decreasing the incidence of disease onset in a mouse model with Diabetes susceptible mice. On the way to explore new ways of treatment for this widespread disease a clearer understanding of how these regulatory T cells emerge and what paths they go to mediate their protection is of critical importance. More
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Day by day, Matthias von Herrath, M.D., and his lab are edging closer to a goal that has eluded the scientific community for nearly a century. The goal-a cure for type 1 diabetes- took a major step in 2006, with von Herrath's and LIAI researcher Damien Bresson, Ph.D.'s development of a combination therapy that is showing significant promise against type 1 diabetes, when caught in the early stages. While exciting, it is not the only diabetes approach that interests von Herrath. His lab is a virtual whirlwind of diabetes research activity, with at least eight different projects under way that explore the disease from different angles.
- 2008 American Diabetes Association–Lilly Outstanding Scientist Achievement Award
January, 2010 - Center for Medical Excellence & Research (CMER)
Possible Role of Viral Infection in the Etiology of Type 1 Diabetes
Matthias von Herrath, M.D.