Weird question

So I worked in an immunology research lab, as a tech for awhile, maaaany years ago. My job was to set up battles between radioactively labeled cancer cells and mouse spleen cells (= immune system) in little wells in a plastic plate. Then harvest the results via “counting” the released radiation from lyses cells in a special machine. We were studying Natural Killer cells, a stealth element of our immune system.

Once, my post-doc boss and I labeled the target cancer cells with fluorescene which glows green in the dark, and mixed them with the spleen cells, then put it on a slide to examine under a microscope in a dark room. We could actually SEE the cancer killing cells attached to the shining greens cancer cells. Very cool!!

Anyway, my question is about our autoimmune condition here. We’re told our immune system is forever taking out our islet cells. T-cells, right? Has anyone here ever actually witnessed this in real time? Has it been proven somehow, or is this just a theory to explain lack of pancreatic function?

Thanks, if you made it to the question!


This is a good article about it. I think it outlines under the Autoimmune Diabetes Pathogenesis that you are asking about?

My simplistic understanding is that T cells are the ones that recognize invaders and call up the army so to speak to attack the invader. Somehow T cells have been told to mistakenly attack our beta cells that make insulin. Normally T cells remember an invader from a past infection etc. How it determines to attack itself with most autoimmunity problems I’m not sure they know yet.

But this article talks about the infiltration that is known

" The best evidence supporting immune system involvement in T1D are studies reporting lymphocytic infiltrate in the islets of T1D cadaveric donors (4, 5), islet-specific autoantibody production in individuals with T1D (68), and identical twin studies in which the twin with T1D rejected islet transplants from their non-diabetic twin (9). Analyses of pancreas sections harvested from individuals with T1D have shown fulminant immune infiltration within individual islets, corroborating a key role for CD4 and CD8 T cells in beta cell destruction (1012)


Thank you so much, Marie! Great article! The why of this self-attack intrigues me. I wonder if there is a residual viral aspect in the triggering of the autoimmune response. You know how viruses can bind into nuclear DNA and start making their proteins with the cell’s machinery. Maybe that’s what our immune system is after. But then removing dormant-ish viral remains from some previous acute infection doesn’t sound very possible. Out of my depth here :thinking:

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They pretty much think it is a virus(es) setting most of type 1 cases off now. Rotovirus vaccine seems to cut down on kids getting type 1 and Enteroviruses have been linked to getting type 1. And of course Sars and Covid. Sars and Covid cases might be different as most people that got type 1 after Sars recovered and Covid they don’t know about yet. There is research going on by some in regards to a vaccine.

It is always a mystery why our body decides to do certain things. In all the autoimmunity problems our body attacks itself trying to get rid of something. Cutting off your nose to spite your face type of thing. In this case I can’t kill the virus so I’m going to kill the cells maybe that had the virus or? The virus might not be so dormant if the process starts with an infection your body attacks and somehow then screws up what it is attacking. I’m attacking the beta cell because I now connect that cell with the virus and your pancreas keeps making them?

My understanding of what could happen could be way off here… I just know some very basics.

The first article talks about you having to have a gene and then the viral attack by certain viruses. The second article is about the possibility of vaccines.


Well, today on NPR’s Fresh Air, Terry Gross interviews a guy who is writes about and does CRISPR modification of immune system cells to cure cancer and autoimmune disease. Fascinating!


Excellent article! Thank You!

I believe that the surface proteins are what our immune systems see as no self invaders. Our immune systems made that mistake and continue to make that same mistake unless we can undergo some short if immune therapy. There have been vaccines that have caused an increase in beta cell function in some type 1 women. So it should be possible for us to somehow change our immune responses to islet cells.

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Interesting ideas. And for many of us, the wonky autoimmune system did not stop with Type 1 diabetes. Since becoming T1D at age 12, I have developed two other autoimmune diseases, and I know that many of our regulars on this Forum have several other autoimmune diseases also. So perhaps a virus started my journey down the path to T1D, but I wonder, then, what caused my autoimmune system to continue to attack other “healthy” cells in my system. Once my autoimmune system started going rogue on me, why did it continue to do so? Perhaps someday we will know.

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A lady I know has Addison’s disease which is autoimmune. She now has 2 more autoimmune diseases and says they happened after getting sick with some unknown viral infections.

If someone determines how to selectively switch off the immune system to stop it from causing harm, well that’ll be worth several Nobel prizes.


Our immune systems are faulty. That’s the key. The protein on a virus was identified as an invader in my case, as well as most type1.
Then my immune system thought that my islet cells were the same pathogen, well because my immune system has badvision or something.
It makes sense that our immune systems are faulty that it will make similar errors as we age. It’s nearly impossible to convince our bodies to not fight something that it thinks is bad for us.