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Research Division Faculty

Primary Appointment: Assistant Professor of Pediatric
Secondary Appointment: Assistant Professor of Medicine
Director of Clinical Immunology at the Barbara Davis Center for Diabetes
Director, CLIA Laboratory for Islet Autoantibody & HLA Service Center at the Barbara Davis Center
Frieda and George S. Eisenbarth Clinical Immunology Endowed Chair


Michels Lab 2015.jpg
A. Alkanani, K. Simmons, K. McDaniel, S. Brackett, A. Michels

My laboratory at the Barbara Davis Center for Diabetes is focused on studying the immunology of autoimmune diseases, with a particular focus on type 1 diabetes. Having lived with type 1 diabetes for the more than 20 years, it is my career goal to contribute to the prevention and ultimately a cure for the disease.
Currently, type 1 diabetes is a predictable disease with the measurement of antibodies directed against proteins from the beta cell; however it is not yet a preventable disease. Our basic and translational research focuses on understanding the underlying immunology of diabetes and how human leukocyte antigen alleles confer disease risk and protection. We are working in collaboration with academic and industrial partners to identify therapeutic interventions, understand drug mechanisms, and translate relevant findings into clinical trials. We discovered that small ‘drug-like’ molecules targeted to MHC class II antigen presentation can block T cell responses and prevent diabetes onset in animal models of spontaneous autoimmune diabetes. Using results from these preclinical studies, we are translating the findings to patients in attempts to prevent disease onset and preserve beta cell function after diagnosis. In humans, HLA-DQ8 and/or DQ2 confer substantial disease risk and are present in 90% of people with type 1 diabetes. We are now testing the concept of blocking a specific MHC class II allele, HLA-DQ8, in a clinical trial with recent onset type 1 diabetes patients ( NCT01883804), which represents personalized medicine for the treatment of type 1 diabetes. 
A second area of research focuses on type 1 diabetes resistance mechanisms as there are specific HLA genes that confer nearly dominant protection from diabetes development. From our recent work, it appears that insulin autoimmunity is a regulated process with new-onset diabetic patients making inflammatory responses and healthy controls producing regulatory or protective T cell responses to mutated insulin peptides. Our results indicate that type 1 diabetes risk may be related to how the HLA-DQ genotype determines the balance of T cell inflammatory versus regulatory responses to insulin. By understanding why healthy non-diabetic individuals do not develop disease, I believe will lead to therapies capable of reeducating the immune systems of T1D patients allowing for disease prevention. 
A final research area is focused on identifying children at risk for type 1 diabetes by measuring islet autoantibodies in the peripheral blood. The presence of 2 or more of the 4 major islet autoantibodies in children with a first degree relative having type 1 diabetes is indicative of pre-clinical type 1 diabetes as nearly 100% of these children develop diabetes provided long term follow up. Strikingly, about 85% of people diagnosed with type 1 diabetes do not have a family history. To screen the general population for type 1 diabetes risk, we have developed the ability to measure all four major islet autoantibodies directed against insulin, GAD, IA-2 and ZnT8 from dried blood spots (DBS) on filter paper, which requires only 150ul of whole blood. We are now screening children ages 1-18 years of age from the general population in the Rocky Mountain Region through 9Health Fairs, an established organization that screens up to 25,000 families at multiple fairs annually.

Lab Members:
Principal Investigator: Aaron Michels, MD
Fellow: Kimber Simmons, MD
Professional Research Assistant: Kristen McDaniel
Professional Research Assistant: Aimon Alkanani
Professional Research Assistant: Soukdavanh (Tunee) Pelletier

MD, Creighton University School of Medicine (2004)

Please direct inquiries to specific e-mail addresses listed within individual entries. For all other general Research inquiries, please contact: Patricia Dodson​