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From South Carolina, USA:

We have a 10 year old daughter recently diagnosed diabetic [three months ago]. My wife was just diagnosed [this month] with Myasthenia Gravis. One of the treatments we are looking at is the removal of the thymus gland that produces antibodies. Since diabetes is an immune system problem the same as MG is, why have I not heard anything on the removal of the thymus gland for diabetics to lower their antibodies?


In rodent models, especially in the BB rat, early thymectomy has prevented diabetes. Results in another model, the NOD mouse, are less convincing. However, this would be an inappropriate road to take in man, firstly because it would involve a major operation in infancy or early childhood and secondly because it would almost certainly compromise the rest of the immune system.

The theory on which thymectomy is based is that the role of the thymus in early life is to teach immature lymphocytes to distinguish 'self' from 'non-self.' In the case of Type 1 diabetes this recognition is missing for the beta cells in the islets, which are then slowly destroyed. Believers in this approach are now trying to selectively remove the uninstructed cells only using monoclonal antibodies. Such studies are still in the animal stage.

Another theory is that the antigens on certain white blood cells are abnormal in such a way that they can more easily be triggered to destroy the beta cells. This theory is the basis of plans to screen for Type 1 Diabetes in infancy and to attempt to 'vaccinate' against it.

Don't even think of thymectomy for your 10 year old!


Original posting 25 Jan 97


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Last Updated: Tuesday April 06, 2010 15:08:52
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