The thymus helps to destroy ‘bad’ immune cells that attack the body, but this doesn’t happen in people with Type 1 diabetes. Dr Allison Green will find out why and how the thymus stops working properly in people with Type 1 diabetes, which could lead to treatments to prevent the condition.
Background to research
To protect us from illnesses, our immune system destroys harmful bacteria and viruses. But some ‘bad’ immune cells mistakenly attack our own body. The thymus is a gland found in the chest – it searches for and destroys these ‘bad’ immune cells before they do any damage.
But in some people, this process doesn’t work properly. This leads to the immune system attacking insulin-producing cells and Type 1 diabetes developing.
In mice that develop Type 1 diabetes, Dr Green has found that a type of immune cell, called thymic B cells, gather in the thymus. These thymic B cells stop the thymus from recognising and destroying the ‘bad’ immune cells that attack the pancreas. But we don’t know how or why this happens.
Dr Green wants to understand more about the role thymic B cells play in the development of Type 1 diabetes. Using state-of-the-art microscopes, she will study these B cells in mice and work out why they appear in the thymus before Type 1 diabetes develops. Dr Green and her team want to find key genes and molecules involved in this process and test if removing them will prevent the thymic B cells from developing.
The researchers also want to understand exactly how these B cells kill other cells in the thymus, which stops the thymus from doing its job.
The team then want build on what they’ve discovered in mice studies and find out if human thymic B cells develop and act in the same way. This will be crucial to help scientists develop treatments for people with Type 1 diabetes in the future.
Potential benefit to people with diabetes
Understanding more about what happens in the thymus in the years before Type 1 diabetes develops could lead to new treatments that allow the thymus to function properly.
In the future, this could help us find ways to stop the immune attack and prevent Type 1 diabetes.