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How and why immunotherapies work to stop type 1

Project summary

Professor Timothy Tree and researchers across the UK will set up a network of specialist labs to examine samples from all UK-based trials of immunotherapies for type 1 diabetes. They will carry out state-of-the-art studies of their safety and effectiveness to understand exactly how treatments work to control the immune system, and who could benefit most from different treatments. In the future, immunotherapies could give us a way to prevent, halt and cure type 1 diabetes.

Background to research

Immunotherapies are treatments that aim to retrain the immune so that it no longer attacks insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. Over the last few years, a number different immunotherapy drugs have been tested in clinical trials. And some have shown real promise. Scientists have found therapies that can help to slow the loss of insulin production in some people newly diagnosed with type 1 diabetes who took part. But in other people, scientists haven't seen any beneficial effect. 

Scientists have looked at changes in the immune system of those who took part in these trials, to understand why treatments can succeed or fail in different people. This has led to important discoveries about why some treatments work, why others do not and why different individuals can benefit from different treatments.

However, these studies have been limited by the local expertise available where each study was carried out, leading to limitations on the knowledge gained. In other cases, key investigations were only performed years after each trial was completed, slowing the rate of progress.

Research aims

As part of the Type 1 Diabetes Immunotherapy Consortium, Professor Tree will set up a network of world-leading specialist labs where blood samples from different immunotherapy trials are sent. They'll combine samples from different trials and analyse them to investigate exactly how treatments work to control the immune system attack. 

They'll measure a wide range of key immune cells and molecules thought to play important roles in the destruction of beta cells. This will help the scientists to unpick why particular treatments benefit some people and not others, to see if it’s possible to figure out which therapy should be given to who.

Finally, they'll assess the best dose of drugs to have the desired impact on the immune system, helping to smooth the path to larger trials and ensure that they are more likely to succeed.

Potential benefit to people with diabetes

Our Immunotherapy Consortium scientists are changing the research landscape to help ensure new treatments that could slow type 1 diabetes reach people newly diagnosed faster. This project will help to improve the UK-wide sharing of knowledge on why some immunotherapies for type 1 diabetes work and why others do not. It will also help to reveal who is most likely to benefit from particular therapies and what combinations of therapies are most effective.

These insights will help scientists to build on each success and learn from each failure much more quickly, accelerating progress towards curing and preventing type 1 diabetes.

This research is co-funded through our partnership with Tesco.
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