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Respiratory viruses and diabetes: helping the immune system put up a fight

Project summary

People with diabetes have a higher risk of getting more severe symptoms from common respiratory viruses, such as the common cold and flu, than people without diabetes. But we don’t yet understand why the immune systems of people with diabetes are less efficient at dealing with respiratory viruses, and why high blood sugars are linked to increased chance of severe symptoms. Dr Dominguez-Villar’s PhD student will work out how type 1 diabetes changes the way in which immune cells detect and fight respiratory infections.  

Background to research

People with diabetes have a higher risk of getting more severe symptoms from common respiratory viruses, such as the common cold and flu, than people without diabetes. Having severe symptoms can mean you can’t carry on with normal activities, diabetes and blood sugar levels become more difficult to manage, and some people may need additional medical support.    

We don’t yet understand why the immune systems of people with diabetes are less efficient at fighting these common viruses, and why having high blood sugars is linked to increased chance of severe symptoms. Knowing this will help scientists to develop new, tailored treatments for people with diabetes who have an infection or are at increased risk of getting seriously ill if they catch one of these viruses.  

Research aims

Dr Margarita Dominguez-Villar and her PhD student will work to answer two important questions:  

  1. How does the immune system’s ability to detect and fight infections from common respiratory viruses differ between people who have type 1 diabetes and people who do not have diabetes?  
  2. How do blood sugar levels impact on the immune system’s ability to detect and fight respiratory viruses? 

They will collect blood from people with type 1 diabetes who either have an HbA1c below 53 mmol/mol (in target range) or above 69 mmol/mol (higher than target range), as well as people who do not have diabetes. In the lab, they’ll look closely at the participants’ immune cells to see how active they are when exposed to respiratory viruses and the exact ways in which they go about fighting off infection.  

They will compare the results of people with type 1 diabetes to people without the condition to see how diabetes changes how the immune system detects and fights respiratory infections. And to work out how having higher blood sugar levels changes these immune system responses.  

Potential benefit to people with diabetes

Understanding why the immune systems of people with type 1 diabetes can be less efficient at fighting common respiratory viruses will help in the development of new tailored treatments for people with diabetes who have picked up a respiratory virus, to reduce the chance of them becoming more unwell.  

This research could also give us with the information needed to spot people with type 1 who are at higher risk of getting more seriously ill from repository viruses, so we can make sure they get the advice and care they need before they pick up an infection. 

Dr Dominguez-Villar plans to follow-up with another project to work out if the results from this research also apply to people with type 2 diabetes.  

 

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