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The Betas and the Bs: finding immune cells that lead to type 1

Project summary

Type 1 diabetes is caused by the body’s immune system attacking and destroying its own beta cells. Dr Joanne Boldison has found several unique types of immune cell in people with type 1 diabetes. She wants to investigate these cells, to understand how they lead to the development of type 1 diabetes. This knowledge could help us stop the development of type 1 diabetes in the future.

Background to research

Type 1 diabetes is caused by the immune system mistakenly destroying the beta cells in the pancreas that are responsible for producing insulin. A key part of the immune system are the B cells, which label cells with proteins called antibodies. These labelled cells are then destroyed by T cells.

In a person without diabetes, there are no B cells in the pancreas. But, in people with type 1 diabetes there are B cells present in the pancreas. Dr Boldison has recently found a range of different types of B cell in people with type 1 diabetes. We currently don’t know exactly what role these B cells play in the development of type 1 diabetes.

Research aims

Dr Boldison wants to understand more about these different types of B cells and how they affect the beta cells. She will use mice that have been genetically modified to develop type 1 diabetes. She will take samples from the mice as they are still developing type 1 diabetes, and identify the different types of B cells.

Dr Boldison will then use a research tool called a microarray that will tell her more about the genetics of the different types of B cells. This will help her understand more about how the B cells change during the development of type 1 diabetes.

Potential benefit to people with diabetes

Understanding how B cells function during the development of type 1 diabetes could help scientists to develop therapies that prevent beta cells from being destroyed by the immune system. Therapies like this might also help to prevent people from developing type 1 diabetes in the future, by stopping the process before it even begins.

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