Dr. Pere Santamaria has always wanted to be a scientist. Early in his career he began to study immunology. For the last 14 years, he has dedicated his research to autoimmune diseases. Autoimmune diseases presented a challenge, and he wanted to unlock their secrets and create more effective treatments.
Dr. Santamaria studies the cause of diabetes on a molecular level with the hope of finding a treatment by manipulating the activation controls of white blood cells. Resources offered by the Julia McFarlane Chair in Diabetes Research have been utilized to assist Dr. Santamaria in making some important discoveries. He has identified key molecular “switches” that control the activation status of beta cell-killer white blood cells. Beta cell-killer white blood cells recognize and kill the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas, thus causing diabetes in the individual.
The discovery of these “switches” has led to the development of diagnostic tools and a potential therapeutic vaccine for the prevention and cure of type 1 diabetes. A vaccine for type 1 diabetes is currently being tested on mice. Once the vaccine has been proven effective in mice the research will move into clinical trials.
This research is exciting not only because it may offer a cure for diabetes, but because it could impact treatment of all autoimmune diseases. In the future doctors may be able to prevent autoimmune diseases, restore damaged immune systems to their normal state or more effectively treat patients with autoimmune diseases.