When Li Zhang, MD, PhD, was a practicing physician in China, many of her patients were living with diabetes. She observed that her type 2 diabetes patients could have a mostly normal life with prescription medication and insulin. However, her type 1 diabetes patients could not. Type 1 diabetes patients tend to have more severe life-threatening complications such as heart disease, stroke or kidney disease and have a significantly shorter life span. It was this experience that drove her to research a way to improve the life for type 1 diabetes patients and eventually prevent the disease.
Dr. Zhang already has established an antibody therapy that can protect mice from getting diabetes that was published in mAbs (“A monoclonal antibody with broad specificity for the ligands of insulin B:9-23 reactive T cells prevents spontaneous type 1 diabetes in mice,” Nov. 5, 2020). The success in diabetic mice encouraged Dr. Zhang to translate this antibody therapy into human studies.
Today, she has successfully identified a lead antibody targeting a human type 1 diabetes antigen. She is actively testing the protection of these antibodies in humanized mice to understand if these antibodies can protect humanized mice from getting diabetes. Zhang notes, “If we can prevent diabetes in humanized mice with this antigen, this suggests we can prevent diabetes in humans.