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Researchers solving Type 1 diabetes puzzle piece by piece

25 April 2016

Diabetes UK scientists solve immune system mystery for Type 1 diabetes 

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Dr Christie

Scientists havesolved a medical mysteryby finally identifying an unknown molecule which is attacked by the immune system in people with Type 1 diabetes.

The ground-breaking research, led by Diabetes UK-funded Dr Michael Christie from the University of Lincoln, UK, could help to find people at risk of Type 1 diabetes and inform the development of treatments that could prevent the condition.

Detecting 'antibodies'

In Type 1 diabetes, the immune system reacts to particular molecules in the pancreas that it would normally ignore. Tests are used to detect this immune system reaction, and can measure the risk a person has of developing Type 1 diabetes.

The tests are currently used to find those most at risk of Type 1 diabetes, and in the future could provide an opportunity to intervene and stop the condition in its tracks.

Finding Glima

Until now, scientists had found four molecules that are attacked by the immune system in Type 1 diabetes. The identity of a fifth molecule – known only as ‘Glima’ for the past 20 years – has been a mystery. Dr Christie’s team have successfully identified this fifth molecule as Tetraspanin-7, which could make tests for predicting Type 1 diabetes more accurate.

They're now searching for ways to block the immune attack, in order to prevent Type 1 diabetes from developing in the first place.

Making tests more accurate

Tests to assess a person’s risk of Type 1 diabetes currently involve four molecules found in the pancreas. Following Dr Christie’s research, the fifth molecule (Tetraspanin-7) can now be included in this process.

This could make tests more accurate and help researchers to understand each unique immune response – both of which are crucial in the development of treatments that can stop the progression of Type 1 diabetes.  

"Impressive research"

Dr Emily Burns, Research Communications Manager at Diabetes UK, said, “In order to prevent Type 1 diabetes, we need to fully understand how the immune response that damages insulin-producing cells develops in the first place.

"Dr Christie’s impressive research is helping us to do just that.

"We hope that the findings here will be used to improve the identification of those at risk of Type 1 diabetes and, in the long-term, inform the crucial development of therapies that can stop this immune response from happening and ultimately prevent Type 1 diabetes.” 

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