Regulatory T cells are a small population of white blood cells that are essential for preventing tissue damages caused by over activation of the immune system. The Tang lab has shown that infusion of regulatory T cells in animal models can reverse type 1 diabetes, a disease caused by immune destruction of insulin-producing cells in the pancreatic islets. Similarly, regulatory T cell therapy can prevent rejection of transplanted organs in animal models. A joint team of researchers from the Tang and Bluestone labs is currently conducting 6 clinical trials evaluating the safety and efficacy of regulatory T cell therapy in patients. In the mean time, we are developing next generation regulatory T cell therapies in preclinical models to improve the safety and efficacy of the therapy.
In patients with chronic type 1 diabetes, transplanting of stem-cell-derived beta cells can potentially cure the disease, but patients have to commit to life-long immunosuppression to prevent rejection of the transplanted cells from rejection by the immune system. The Tang lab is currently investigating approaches to shield the transplanted cells from the immune systems using novel biomaterials developed in the Desai and Roy labs at UCSF. We are also applying genome-editing technologies to immunoengineer stem cells to evade immune rejection.