I am often asked, “Why do you study such a rare disease, Wolfram?” My answer is, “It is the weapon to combat common diseases.” My secret answer is, “I want to help Wolfram patients and their families.”
Why it is so important to study Wolfram syndrome, a rare condition characterized by juvenile-onset diabetes, optic atrophy, and neurodegeneration? It is a frightening condition. Wolfram syndrome is always on my mind just like pediatric cancer was always on my mind when I was a young doctor (some people still think that I am a young doctor…thank you). I just want to help them. That’s all I want. This is my last research project.
From a scientific standpoint, I always believe that there is a tremendous benefit for us to study Wolfram syndrome. Increasing evidence now indicates that endoplasmic reticulum (ER) dysfunction is involved in more common diseases, especially type 1 diabetes. I propose that Wolfram syndrome is the “weapon to combat type 1 diabetes.”
Despite its rarity, Wolfram syndrome probably represents the best model currently available for identifying treatments for diseases associated with ER dysfunction. Wolfram syndrome arises from mutation of a single gene (WFS1), a gene shown to be also involved in β cell dysfunction and death in other forms of diabetes mellitus. Its monogenic etiology makes Wolfram syndrome more amenable to dissecting out the mechanisms underpinning cellular responses to ER dysfunction than other diabetic conditions, such as type 1 diabetes mellitus, in which multiple factors typically interact to produce the disease manifestations.