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Understanding the immune attack in Type 1 diabetes

Project summary

In Type 1 diabetes, immune cells move into the pancreas and attack insulin-producing beta cells, but we don’t currently known how or why.

Professor Morgan believes that the immune attack may not be the same in everyone with Type 1 diabetes and plans to find out how immune cells interact with each other to coordinate an attack against beta cells. This project will help us to understand how and why Type 1 diabetes develops.

Background to research

Researchers believe that immune cells move into the pancreas and attack beta cells in Type 1 diabetes, but this process has actually only been studied in less than 200 people (because the samples needed are extremely rare).

Using these samples Professor Morgan’s team have discovered that there appear to be two distinct ways that immune cells attack in Type 1 diabetes, with one way being more aggressive than the other. This suggests that we need a better understanding of how immune cells attack, so that we can develop the most effective and accurate immunotherapy treatments to stop them.

Treatments may need to be tailored to different people, depending on the type of immune attack they have in their pancreas. To do this, Professor Morgan’s team want to understand the exact interactions between immune cells that allow them to coordinate an attack against the beta cells.

Research aims

Professor Morgan’s team plan to study these two distinct types of immune attack in the lab, looking at how the immune cells interact with each other (down to the specific molecules involved) and coordinate their attack. They’ll be using up to 100 pancreas samples from people that were recently diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the time of collection.

Taking advantage of powerful microscopes that can create a 3D image of the cells within the sample, they’ll study the specific proteins involved in immune cell interactions. Overall, this could provide a never-before-seen image of the immune attack in Type 1 diabetes.

Potential benefit to people with diabetes

At Diabetes UK we want to understand and cure Type 1 diabetes. We don’t yet understand what causes Type 1 diabetes, or how the immune attack starts. This information is crucial if we’re to develop immunotherapies to stop or prevent Type 1 diabetes from progressing in the future.

This project will provide details around the immune attack that have never before been seen, giving researchers new insight into how Type 1 diabetes develops and what needs to be done to stop it. 

This project has been adopted by:

Diabetes UK local groups: Newry and Mourne, North Devon, Plymouth, South Gloucestershire, and Swindon.

Organisations: Coralie Green and Jive+
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