New discovery in research study led by WMed professor could hold key to improved treatments for Type 1 diabetes

Craig Beam, PhD
Craig Beam, PhD

The results of a research study led by a WMed professor may hold the key to improved approaches for the treatment of Type 1 diabetes.

The new findings are contained in a research paper – “Peripheral immune circadian variation, synchronisation and possible dysrhythmia in established type 1 diabetes” – published recently in Diabetologia, a leading diabetes research journal.

The important results contained in the research publication center around the discovery of a significant shift in timing of peak levels of the immune cells that play a role in the autoimmune destruction of insulin-producing cells that causes Type 1 diabetes, said Craig Beam, PhD, a professor in the medical school’s Department of Biomedical Sciences and the paper’s lead author.

Specifically, Dr. Beam said B cells and T cells that contribute to the destruction of insulin-producing cells were found to peak five hours later in the day for individuals with longstanding Type 1 diabetes when compared to samples from a control group of individuals without the disease. That phenomenon is known as immune circadian dysrhythmia and the findings from Dr. Beam and his team is a new phenotype as it marks the first time immune circadian dysrhythmia has been observed in Type 1 diabetes.

“We’re seeing this pattern, we know it’s different than what we see in healthy people, so what are the possible explanations for it?” Dr. Beam said.

Dr. Beam said he and his team are focused on that question as its answer could someday help improve treatments for Type 1 diabetes. Currently, Type 1 diabetes is the most common metabolic childhood disease and is prevalent in 6 percent of the worldwide population. Untreated, the disease can lead to early death, cardiovascular complications, or amputation.

Moving forward, Dr. Beam said he and his team plan to submit a proposal in October to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for a study that would build upon their current body of research by seeking to identify the possible causal pathways of immune circadian dysrhythmia in Type 1 diabetes with the ultimate goal of developing new therapeutic approaches to the disease.

“It might not lead to a sole therapy but rather an adjunctive to existing therapies that could make those therapies better,” Dr. Beam said. “For example, chronotherapies, in which treatment is given at optimal times during the day, have been successfully used in cancer treatment protocols to either increase the potency of a drug or to lessen its side effects.

Dr. Beam said the recent discovery is part of a five-year effort that included numerous collaborators, including the Jasper Clinic in Kalamazoo, the Center for Clinical Research and the Division of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at WMed, as well as McKenzie Akers, MD, an alumna from the MD Class of 2018. Dr. Beam also worked closely with Mark A. Atkinson, PhD, director of the University of Florida Diabetes Institute; Linda DiMeglio, MD, director of the Division of Endocrinology and Diabetology at Indiana University Medical Center, and Clive H. Wasserfall, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Pathology, Immunology and Laboratory Medicine at the University of Florida, all of whom are co-authors on the publication in Diabetologia.

The Jasper Clinic study was funded by WMed as a pilot study and provided pilot data to a research proposal submitted to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF). Funding was awarded in 2017 to WMed with Dr. Beam as principal investigator.

“This has been a longstanding effort and I could not have done it without my collaborators,” Dr. Beam said. “I’m very fortunate to be able to work with two of the leading Type 1 diabetes research centers in the world at the University of Florida and University of Indiana. I also owe a lot to WMed for the support they’ve given me.”