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Auto-Immune Diseases: Type I Diabetes    
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What is Diabetes Type I

Type I Diabetes affects approximately 5% to 10% of the general population, and it usually sets in during childhood. No one can say for sure what triggers Type I Diabetes, but scientists believe genetics and environmental factors play a role.  Similar to many other autoimmune disorders, if someone has family members that are diabetic, they have a greater chance of developing Diabetes than someone who has no family history of Diabetes.

Environmental factors, like certain chemicals and viral infections, are believed to initiate or exacerbate Type I Diabetes.  Also, there is evidence linking Type I Diabetes to other autoimmune diseases like anemia, thyroid disease, and Addison’s disease.

Pathogenesis:  what actually happens?
In Type I Diabetes, the special insulin-producing cells of the pancreas—the beta Islet cells—are attacked and destroyed by the body’s T cells.  The immune system becomes intolerant [link to page that discusses memory/tolerance/intolerance)to certain cells of its own body, the Islet cells, and begins to produce antibodies against it.  This then is an auto (against the self) immune (immune response) disease.

It is very unusual for the body to mistake healthy cells for infected ones.  There are many steps taken to prevent this.  T cells are the mediators and regulators of the immune system.  They activate the antibody response and stimulate phagocytosis.  If they mistakenly recognize healthy body cells as infected, they activate other cells of the body to attack as well.  To prevent this, when T cells are maturing in the thymus, they are evaluated before they are released into the body. If they are designed to recognize and attack body cells, then they are automatically destroyed—nearly 90% of T cells are destroyed in the thymus before traveling to the body! 

Does the thymus release irregular T cells into the body?  The next page outlines some major theories behind the origin of Type I Diabetes.

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