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Small molecules to stop the immune attack

Project summary

In Type 1 diabetes, immune cells called T cells attack and destroy insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. T cells recognise five specific molecules on beta cells, and Dr Parth Narendran wants to identify the exact regions of the molecules involved. This could help scientists to develop more accurate diagnosis tools, and find ways to prevent Type 1 or stop it progressing. 

Background to research

Type 1 diabetes develops when the immune system goes rogue and starts attacking insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. The attack is led by a special type of immune cell, called T cells. T cells recognise and attack five specific molecules found on the beta cells. Over time, this leads to their destruction.

We already know the identity of the five molecules, but T cells actually only recognise a tiny region of each molecule. We don’t yet know what these regions are. 

Dr Narendran and his team have developed a lab technique that could help to accurately identify these regions. They’ve already successfully used this method for other conditions involving T cells, such as multiple sclerosis.

Research aims

Dr Narendran wants to use this new method to find the exact regions of the five molecules recognised by T cells in Type 1 diabetes. This knowledge can be used to develop immunotherapies that could prevent Type 1 diabetes in those at high risk, or stop it from progressing in those recently diagnosed.

First, Dr Narendran and his team will cut the molecules recognised by the immune system into small pieces and use their new method to find the specific pieces recognised by T cells. They’ll use T cells from blood samples of people with Type 1 diabetes. 

Once they’ve found the right regions, they’ll make them in the lab and test if they can be used to stop the T cell attack in an animal model of Type 1 diabetes. Researchers hope these small fragments could be used to build up a tolerance, so the T cells no longer attack the pancreas – like methods used to reduce peanut allergies. 

Potential benefit to people with diabetes

Understanding how T cells recognise and attack beta cells at a molecular level is vital. This detailed information could help scientists to develop immunotherapies to treat or prevent Type 1 diabetes. It could also be used to create more accurate diagnostic tests, which could reduce misdiagnosis in the future – especially in people of an older age, where incorrect diagnoses are more common.

£220,869 of this funding has been provided by Tesco.

Project adopted by:
Diabetes UK local group: Northhampton
Organisations: Eveson Charitable Trust; Sheldonia Charitable Trust.
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