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How does the type 1 diabetes immune attack differ between people?

Project summary

Type 1 diabetes develops when a person’s immune system attacks and destroys their insulin-making beta cells. Dr Leete will study pancreas samples from people with type 1 diabetes to figure out why the immune system turns on beta cells, and how this process may differ between people, especially those diagnosed at different ages. In the future this could lead to more personalised treatments to delay or prevent type 1 diabetes.

Background to research

Previous research has found that the immune attack behind type 1 diabetes can differ depending on the age a person develops the condition. For example, younger children tend to experience a more aggressive immune attack that wipes out their beta cells quickly. But beta cells in people diagnosed later in childhood or adulthood (13 years or older) tend to stick around for longer and are still producing some insulin at diagnosis. This suggests that there might be separate subtypes of type 1 diabetes. Dr Leete wants to understand more about how each subtype develops.  

Currently, scientists are testing and developing new treatments, called immunotherapies, which aim to halt the immune attack and protect beta cells. If there are different type 1 subtypes, then it may be possible to tailor the immunotherapy to the person.  

Research aims

Dr Leete will study how and why beta cells are destroyed in people with type 1 diabetes, and how this differs between people and at different ages of diagnosis. She will study a rare collection of pancreas samples from people with type 1 diabetes. 

Her team will use a technique, called immunostaining, to build a map of the activity of different immune cells and important proteins in the pancreas samples. This will help them to reconstruct a timeline of the immune attack and provide a richer picture of what happens in the pancreas as type 1 develops for different people, and factors in the immune system that determine how quickly and how many beta cells are destroyed.

Potential benefit to people with diabetes

This project will give us the most detailed understanding to date of what happens in the immune system as type 1 diabetes develops, and how this can differ from person to person. This could help scientists to develop new, tailored immunotherapy treatments that take us closer to stopping or preventing type 1 diabetes.

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