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Willy Gepts (1922-1991) was professor of Pathology at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) in Belgium. He studied 22 young patients with recent onset type 1 diabetes, and discovered that the insulin producing beta cells in these patients are destroyed by an (auto)immune process. His studies were published in the 1965 issue of the scientific journal Diabetes. The cases on which his studies were based are now available in a digitized format. They allow interested patients and scientists to visualize the histopathological lesions that are at the basis of the disease. Characteristic for acute type 1 diabetes in children is the presence of ‘insulitis’, an inflammatory infiltration of the islets of Langerhans. This (auto) immune process is currently thought to be mediated by cytotoxic CD8+ T-cells directed towards beta cell antigens, leading to the destruction of virtually all insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. Human samples showing these lesions are extremely difficult to find as they are only present during a short period of time after diagnosis. Only 150-200 cases of insulitis are known to us today on a worldwide basis and collected over the past century. Even today, the Willy Gepts collection is an important resource for our studies into the disease processes leading to type 1 diabetes.

An obituary was published in the journal Diabetologia in 2005.

Willy Gepts (1922-1991) Insulitis in the human endocrine pancreas

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