The BB rat

In honor of the 100th anniversary of the first administration of insulin, Breakthrough T1D is launching “100 Years, 100 Breakthrough T1D Scientists,” the story of the scientists who contributed to discoveries that played a part in the vast knowledge that we have about diabetes today.

The next one: The BB rat.

In 1974, in a fluke of genetic evolution, a colony of non-diabetic BB (BioBreeding) rats raised for research by BioBreeding Laboratories in Ottawa, Canada, develops diabetes. Examination of their pancreases revealed that they had no beta cells.

The model was first characterized by Errol Marliss, M.D., a Breakthrough T1D grantee from 1976 on, Azima Nakhooda, Ph.D., who had a Breakthrough T1D postdoctoral fellowship, and colleagues when they were at the University of Toronto, in collaboration with researchers at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, including Breakthrough T1D grantee Arthur Like, M.D. It was the first animal model of spontaneous, autoimmune type 1 diabetes (T1D).

“If we are able to understand the disease process in the rat,” said Dr. Marliss, “we can apply it to people and see if it works.”

There have been models since, most notably the non-obese diabetic (NOD) mouse, which was developed in 1980, and more “humanized” models. But by studying the BB rat and the NOD mouse, researchers were able to learn a great deal about the genetics and immunology of diabetes and its complications, as well as testing treatments—be it beta cell transplantation or disease-modifying therapies, including teplizumab, an investigative treatment that delays T1D for almost 3 years—before they went into humans.

Research is how insulin was discovered as a therapy for diabetes, and Breakthrough T1D research is advancing us toward cures and the next generation of life-changing breakthroughs for T1D. Follow up each week to find out who we selected and their major discoveries, in honor of the 100th anniversary of the first administration of insulin.

1. Nakhooda AF, Like AA, Chappel CI, Murray FT, Marliss EB. The spontaneously diabetic Wistar rat. Metabolic and morphologic studies. Diabetes. 1977 Feb; 26 (2): 100-12. doi: 10.2337/diab.26.2.100. PMID: 320072

2. Nakhooda AF, Like AA, Chappel CI, Wei CN, Marliss EB. The spontaneously diabetic Wistar rat (the “BB” rat). Studies prior to and during development of the overt syndrome. Diabetologia. 1978 Mar; 14 (3): 199-207. doi: 10.1007/BF00429781. PMID: 350681

3. Nakhooda AF, Wei CN, Like AA, Marliss EB. The spontaneously diabetic Wistar rat (the “BB” rat): the significance of transient glycosuria. Diabete Metab. 1978 Dec; 4 (4): 255-9. PMID: 729891