Our research addresses type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune condition in which the immune system does not recognize insulin-producing cells as “self” and destroys them. We study a process called immune tolerance, in which the immune system learns to not respond to self-tissue. Our research uses a nonobese diabetic (NOD) mouse model of type 1 diabetes to study how, in the long term, we might learn to manipulate immune responses to treat autoimmune diseases.
Our research examines two kinds of immune cells—dendritic cells (DCs), which help determine the type of immune response, and regulatory T cells (Tregs), which can inhibit immune responses and induce tolerance. Specifically, we focus on how they induce tolerance in a type of white blood cell (T cells) and how these mechanisms are altered or deficient in the NOD mouse model. One long-term goal of our research is to learn how to use DCs to induce tolerance specific to the autoimmune response that underlies human type 1 diabetes. To accomplish this goal, we study DCs under many different physiological environments, including chronic autoimmune inflammation.