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Chemists say they have identified a gene that appears to play a key role in the development of type 1 diabetes, also known as insulin-dependent or juvenile diabetes, a disease that affects about one million people in the U.S. and is on the rise worldwide. They described their findings, which they say could lead to new drug interventions and possibly gene therapy, today at the 229th national meeting of the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society.

In the current study, the researchers focused on the formation of the MIF protein (macrophage migration inhibitory factor), a proinflammatory protein that they showed in previous studies is elevated in diabetic animals and may be involved in the cascade of immunological events that leads to the destruction of the pancreas and the subsequent onset of type 1 diabetes. The disease is much less common than type 2 diabetes, formerly known as adult onset or non-insulin-dependent diabetes, which is often associated with obesity.

"We've shown that the MIF gene is crucial for the development of type 1 diabetes," says study leader Yousef Al-Abed, Ph.D., a chemist at the Institute for Medical Research of the North Shore-Long Island Jewish (LIJ) Health System in Manhasset, N.Y. "It is not the only factor involved in this complex disease, but it is certainly a promising target for its prevention and treatment."

In preliminary studies by the research group, specially bred mice that lacked the gene for the MIF protein failed to develop diabetes compared to mice that possessed the gene, according to the investigators. Although it's likely that multiple genes are involved in the formation of diabetes, the finding provides proof of concept that efforts to block the formation of this particular protein is a promising approach for fighting diabetes, they say.

"The MIF gene may be regulating other genes involved in type 1 diabetes," says Al-Abed. "We don't know yet, but we're looking into
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