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Thinking outside the BOX

Project summary

Children of the Bart’s Oxford Study: insights into the changing dynamics of susceptibility to Type 1 diabetes

Dr Kathleen Gillespie will extend the existing Bart’s–Oxford study, the world’s longest running family study of Type 1 diabetes. Her work will provide a unique resource of biological samples, to enable scientists to study the genetic risk factors, environmental influences and their impact on the immune system in Type 1 diabetes.

Background to research

The Bart’s–Oxford (or BOX) family study is the longest running family study of Type 1 diabetes anywhere in the world. It was begun in 1985 and tracks the health of over 3,900 families that include a child with Type 1 diabetes.

The study has been crucial in monitoring the rising occurrence of Type 1 diabetes in the UK and has helped to improve our understanding of the immune causes of Type 1 diabetes. This means we can better predict who might get Type 1 diabetes so that they can receive the best possible care and be invited to join trials of new therapies.

New genes and markers connected to the immune attack that causes Type 1 diabetes are rapidly emerging. In future, this could affect how people at risk of Type 1 are identified and recruited for clinical trials. 

Research aims

Dr Kathleen Gillespie will extend the existing BOX study to continue enabling scientists to study the genetic risk factors, environmental influences and their impact on the immune system in Type 1 diabetes.

Her team will continue to recruit the families of children newly diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, but will also begin to include the next generation of family members from current participants.

The researchers will examine blood samples to look for important genes and risk markers. They will then work out how these have changed compared to those seen in the previous generation of each family.

As events in early in life can be important for the development of Type 1 diabetes, the researchers will also focus on participants in the study who are pregnant, with the aim of following their health and the health of their children.

Potential benefit to people with diabetes

This research will extend the BOX study to include four generations of people with diabetes and their relatives. By studying the same families over long periods of time, it will provide insights into how Type 1 diabetes develops through the generations. 

In particular, the study’s collection of DNA, blood and gut bacteria samples will help to unravel the effects of environment and genetics on babies, before birth and in early life. The understanding we will gain from this work will be vital for future efforts to prevent Type 1 diabetes.

This project has been adopted by:

Diabetes UK local groups: London Borough of Hillingdon, Newry and Mourne, South Northants, and Thurrock.

Organisations: Susan Seaborn (Diabetes Charity Shop) and Sir Samuel Scott of Yews Trust

Individuals: Mrs Angela Rowland, Mrs Louise Ledwith and Ms Jennifer Finnerty
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