Expertscape interviews Dr. Matthias von Herrath about type 1 diabetes and where the latest research is headed. He is Professor at the La Jolla Institute for Immunology and Vice President in Novo Nordisk's Global Chief Medical Office.
In simple terms, how should we be thinking about diabetes and its potential cure?
Dr. von HerrathWe do not understand the so-called autoimmune diseases yet, where our own immune system attacks our own organs or cells. It is a universal problem and I began with the hope and commitment to try to make a difference for those patients afflicted with autoimmunity, not only type 1 diabetes, but also multiple sclerosis, alopecia, arthritis, lupus etc. My hope is that better understanding one of these diseases well will not only bring medical treatment advances for this particular disease but also some other autoimmune disorders.
Make a prediction for us. What do you think will be the next big discovery in the study and treatment of Type 1 Diabetes and what will that mean for those afflicted?
Dr. von HerrathI believe we will be able to develop therapies that preserve beta cells for some time in the next 5-10 years, either after onset of clinical type 1 diabetes or, ideally, to delay the onset altogether. The longer-term vision is to help all patients with diabetes and use such therapies (that also re-direct the immune system from attacking beta cells) to make stem cell transplants possible. A key here is that the therapies need to have very low side effects, something we have been working on intensively.
What are you working on now, and what to you hope to discover?
Dr. von HerrathWe hope to bring a therapy to the market that can preserve insulin production after onset of diabetes or, even better, a vaccine that delays the disease (and maybe makes implanting stem cells that make new beta cells easier by preventing the immune system from attacking them). We also hope to discover what factors cause type 1 diabetes in the first place by studying the human pathology of the disease with the Network for Pancreatic Organ Donors Consortium (nPOD).
Do you have any specific advice for those now entering healthcare, and particularly those interested in this area of research and care?
Dr. von HerrathIt is humbling how little we still know about the human body and the marvelous way it works! Thus, to prevent or cure diseases there is plenty to do and discover and it is an exciting journey that can potentially help many patients to ease their suffering. Never give up, and have a high tolerance for setbacks on the way though!
Here's a chance to mention your institutions. What do you like about working at the La Jolla Institute and Novo Nordisk?
Dr. von HerrathIn La Jolla institute, I particularly like the collegial attitude that allows for easy and very fruitful collaborations and discussions across boundaries - this is so important for scientific progress. And at Novo Nordisk, one of the large Pharma companies involved mostly in diabetes, I like their commitment to find a cure eventually for type 1 diabetes even if the market might be smaller than for type 2 diabetes.
Should the public be encouraged by the progress being made in the field of type 1 diabetes?
Dr. von HerrathYes, most definitely. These are exciting times where lots of hard work from the past 30 years is likely to become reality!
Thank you, Dr. von Herrath.
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