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STAT6 and beta cells in Type 1

Project summary

STAT6 as a regulator of beta-cell health; a previously unrecognised role in human diabetes

Professor Noel Morgan and his colleagues will study the role of protein STAT6 in beta cell health and survival and investigate the possibility that loss of this protein may contribute to beta cell death in Type 1 diabetes.

Background to research

Type 1 diabetes occurs when insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas are destroyed by the immune system. However, the exact reasons for this are unknown and difficult to study. Most of what we know comes from analysing samples obtained from patients after their death. As most people live for many years after first developing Type 1 diabetes, the processes that caused the condition are no longer present. Dr Noel Morgan and his team have access to a unique collection of pancreas samples from children with Type 1 diabetes. Studying these has revealed that STAT6, a protein that controls the activity of genes, is found at lower levels in beta cells from these children. In the pancreas, STAT6 is found only the beta cells and not in any other cell type. It helps to protect some cells fromthe immune attack and, although this has not yet been studied in beta cells, loss of this protection may contribute to beta cell death in Type 1 diabetes. 

Research aims

Professor Morgan and his colleagues will study the role of protein STAT6 in beta cell health and survival, and investigate the possibility that loss of this protein may contribute to beta cell death in Type 1 diabetes. They will first study human pancreas samples and identify factors that regulate the presence of STAT6 in beta cells. They will then use two newly available human beta cell lines, to study the processes that influence STAT6 levels and develop a detailed understanding of the mechanisms by which STAT6 promotes beta cell survival. 

Potential benefit to people with diabetes

This study will help us to understand the factors that lead to beta cell death in people with Type 1 diabetes. It will help to identify pathways and proteins found in beta cells that could potentially be targeted to prevent or slow beta cell death in the face of an immune attack. In the future, this understanding could be used to develop new treatments that could help to prevent Type 1 diabetes in people who are at risk. 

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