University of Florida Health Researchers hope to find new treatment for Type 1 Diabetes

Human regulatory T cells (Tregs), a type of white blood cell and part of our body’s immune system, are showing promising results as a potential therapeutic option for Type 1 diabetes and other autoimmune diseases.

Building on previous work, University of Florida Health Researchers, in collaboration with investigators at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine, published results from a recent study demonstrating that Tregs can be isolated from cryopreserved cord blood and expanded in the laboratory under a good manufacturing practice (GMP) compliant setting, suggesting the cells could be used in patients with Type 1 diabetes1. Researchers are excited about the findings as it suggests that cord blood may be a suitable source for this potential therapeutic approach in regenerative medicine.

What is Type 1 diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes, commonly referred to as juvenile diabetes, is a life-threatening chronic condition in which the pancreas produces little to no insulin, which is needed to regulate our bodies’ blood sugar levels. In patients with Type 1 diabetes, a group of cells in the immune system, called T effector cells, attacks the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas. Insulin is a hormone made by certain cells of the pancreas, allowing glucose to enter cells and helps regulate our blood sugar. Because the body’s own cells are attacked by the immune system, Type 1 diabetes is defined as an autoimmune disease.

How is Type 1 diabetes managed today?

Insulin therapy either given by injections or a pump that connects to a part of the body by catheter is needed daily. It is challenging for Type 1 diabetics to regulate how much insulin they need based on fluctuating factors throughout the day, such as what food was eaten, how much exercise or stress was involved that day, and other health problems that may be occurring. If a person takes too much insulin, the body burns too much glucose that results in dangerously low blood sugar levels called hypoglycemia. If a person takes too little insulin, it results in dangerously high levels called hyperglycemia. Most diabetics must check their blood glucose levels regularly throughout the day and adjust their target insulin intake accordingly.

One interesting approach to treating the underlying cause of Type 1 diabetes being explored in clinical trials is trying to restore the balance that normally exists between the T effector cells and T regulatory cells, a part of the immune system responsible for, as the name implies, regulating other cells in the immune system.

Several groups have hypothesized, and are testing the safety and feasibility2 of, isolating and expanding Tregs from an individual’s peripheral blood and then administering the purified cells back into the person through an IV. One downside of this approach though, especially in the setting of pediatric patients, is that it requires a substantial blood draw or leukapheresis. This is where using cryopreserved cord blood as an alternative, and very practical, starting material could be more beneficial.

Could Tregs from cord blood be a new potential treatment option?

Cord blood contains many types of cells, including Treg cells, the subject of this study. Previous research efforts have shown it is safe to perform an infusion of one’s own cord blood in patients with Type 1 diabetes3, 4. In this new study from the University of Florida Health Researchers, researchers demonstrated that the Treg cells in both fresh and previously cryopreserved cord blood could be effectively isolated and expanded under Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) compliant conditions1. In other words, the final product met all the criteria appropriate for administration into human patients. As a next step, the goal will be to attempt to slow down the body’s attack on cells and replace them with healthy cells. In addition to demonstrating that the expanded Tregs from cryopreserved cord blood were comparable to Tregs from peripheral blood, the authors report several features of the cord blood-derived Tregs that may translate to additional benefits for treating autoimmune conditions such as Type 1 diabetes1. These exciting results open the door to exploring the safety and efficacy of administering expanded Tregs from one’s own cryopreserved cord blood for patients with Type 1 diabetes.

This research was funded by grants from multiple organizations seeking to advance treatment options for Type 1 diabetes. In addition to sponsoring a grant, we are proud to have several members of CBR’s scientific and medical team as contributors to the study manuscript.


  1. Seay HR et al. Expansion of Human Tregs from Cryopreserved Umbilical Cord Blood for GMP-Compliant Autologous Adoptive Cell Transfer Therapy. 2017. Mol Ther Methods Clin Dev. 2016 Dec 24;4:178-191.
  2. Bluestone JA et al. Type 1 diabetes immunotherapy using polyclonal regulatory T cells. Sci Translational Medicine. 2015 Nov 25;7(315):315ra189.
  3. Haller, M.J. et al. Autologous umbilical cord blood transfusion in young children with type 1 diabetes fails to preserve C-peptide. 2011 Diabetes Care 34, 2567–2569.
  4. Haller, M.J. et al. Autologous umbilical cord blood infusion followed by oral docosahexaenoic acid and vitamin D supplementation for C-peptide preservation in children with Type 1 diabetes. 2013. Biol. Blood Marrow Transplant. 19, 1126–1129.





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Johnelle is a freelance writer and editor. She enjoys all things good for the soul: fitness, painting, traveling, taking photographs of her dog, yoga, dancing, and singing in her Southern California band.

12 thoughts on “University of Florida Health Researchers hope to find new treatment for Type 1 Diabetes

  1. Hi I’m a mother with a daughter that has T1D and I’m so excited that there r people out there trying to help these kids have a better way of life so I thank u and please never give up thanks again.

  2. I am wiping tears of joy from my face while reading this!!! As a medical professional watching this research from the back row, I knew my decision to bank both my children’s blood & tissue would benefit them someday! I am Type 1, my 4 year old is Type 1, & my 2 year old has tested positive for 4 of the 5 antibodies & are just waiting for her to develop Type 1.

    1. Dr. Brzozowski:

      I read your comment and we are a lot alike. I have been Type 1 for over twenty (20) years. My son, who has a fraternal twin, was diagnosed with Type 1 when he was 19 months old. He is seven (7) now. Oddly, his twin sister has no indicators of Type 1. We had the twins cord blood stored with CBR. I’d like to visit with you about some of your life experiences with Type 1. Please email me.

  3. My son, 4, was diagnosed 6 months ago with T1D and we banked his cord blood with CBR. I am hopeful and look forward to new developments for this disease. Thank you for the dedication to research on T1D

  4. My 7 year old Daughter was diagnosed 3.3 years ago. I look forward, with excitement, to any new advancements in curing/treating Type 1. Thank you for all the work you are doing!

  5. My son was diagnosed with T1D, when he was 4 years old now he is 17. We have had some struggles throughout the years and I am incredibly excited to hear of this. Please continue with update and WE prayer for a cure everyday! Thanks for all the time and new development in T1D.

  6. My 8 year old daughter was just diagnosed with T1D in August.. it’s been so tough adjusting to our new norm. We chose to bank her stem cells when she was born on the off chance that she would even ever need them. I’m so happy that they could potentially be the very thing that cures her T1D!!

  7. Its great to see this news! I banked my daughters cord blood and we used half of it in the study Dr. Haller did at University of Florida. She was 6 then. She is now 15. There was no improvements at that time, but it was the first in a long line of steps to get a new treatment. It is great to see how those steps are moving us forward!

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