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The thymus in Type 1 diabetes

Project summary

Thymic B cells as mediators of Type 1 Diabetes

The thymus usually helps to remove rogue immune cells that target the body, rather than protecting against invading germs. For some reason, this doesn't happen in people with Type 1 diabetes. Dr Allison Green will investigate the role of key cells in the thymus, which appear to play a role in the development of Type 1 diabetes in mice.

Background to research

Type 1 diabetes occurs when immune cells, which usually help to protect us from invading germs, instead target and destroy the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas. The thymus is a gland found in the chest that usually plays a vital role in destroying these ‘rogue’ immune cells. At the heart of this process are specialised thymus cells known as ‘medullary thymic epithelial cells’ (mTECS). It is not known why the thymus doesn't purge ‘rogue’ immune cells in people who develop Type 1 diabetes, but finding this out could help us to understand and treat the causes of the condition. Dr Allison Green and her team have discovered that, when Type 1 diabetes develops in mice, a particular group of immune cell (B cells) appear in greater numbers in the thymus. At the same time, mTECS are seen in fewer numbers. 

Research aims

Dr Green will investigate the role of B cells found in the thymus in the development of Type 1 diabetes in mice. In particular, she will focus on the impact of B cells in the thymus on another group of immune cells (T cells), which are a key part of the attack on insulin-producing cells. Dr Green and her team will also study the relationship between mTECS and B cells, and use human tissue to study the importance of B cells in the thymus in human Type 1 diabetes. 

Potential benefit to people with diabetes

This research will help to improve our understanding of the immune attack that causes Type 1 diabetes. Ultimately, this improved understanding will help to open up avenues for the development of new treatments.  Fully funded via our partnership with Tesco

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