Blog Main James Lab T1D Beta Stem Cells
June 30, 2023

To Belgium and Back Again to Study Beta Cells

BRI researchers are working to develop a groundbreaking new approach to treat type 1 diabetes (T1D). They aim to turn T cells that cause T1D into regulatory T cells (Tregs) that protect you from T1D. But there’s one problem: They need to know how this treatment approach works in the actual human beta cells that get attacked in T1D. And those cells are very hard to come by.

“Typically, we can only get them if someone passes away and donates their body to science, which doesn’t happen very often,” says Aisha Callebaut, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in BRI’s James Lab. “We can use other types of cells for lab research, but they don’t give us as precise and accurate information as actual human beta cells.”

Studying how this new approach would work in human beta cells is crucial to moving past lab testing and into an actual medicine that helps people. Dr. Callebaut recently received a fellowship from the JDRF that will enable her to solve the challenge of accessing beta cells as well as test the Treg therapy on these cells.

Featured Bio Aisha Callebaut

She’s spending the first part of her fellowship studying an innovative way to access beta cells: creating them from stem cells, which are cells that can develop into many different types of cells. Decio Eizirik, PhD, an expert in Dr. Callebaut’s home country of Belgium, pioneered this method. Dr. Callebaut will learn this technique from Dr. Eizirik in his lab at the Université Libre de Bruxelles and bring it back to BRI.

“Being able to create beta cells right here at BRI will enable us to test this new treatment and give us better insight into how the therapy would work in an actual person with T1D,” she says.

Dr. Callebaut hopes her work in beta cells will accelerate lab testing of this therapy and move them closer to human trials. “T1D often starts very early in life. You never get a break from it, you can’t turn it off,” she says. “I was so excited to receive this fellowship. I would be even more excited to one day see our work lead to a new therapy that could stop T1D.”

Main Blog Image: Beta cells made from stem cells under a microscope

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