Team to research development rates of type 1 diabetes

by Barbara Hewitt on January 10, 2014

Researchers in the UK are aiming to try to find out why some people develop type 1 diabetes more quickly than others.

Despite both groups having similar early indicators of diabetes, the autoimmune process can develop quickly in some people but very slowly in others and now researchers from the University of Bristol are looking to find out more.


The research team hopes to identify what causes slow progression of diabetes in some people and potentially lead to a treatment to delay the onset of type 1 diabetes

The team from the university’s Diabetes and Metabolism Research Group have been given a £400,000 grant from charity JDRF which is dedicated to finding a cure for diabetes.

The aim of the research is to try to identify these ‘slow progressors’ in groups of participants from existing long term studies, and determine what sets them apart.

Type 1 diabetes occurs when part of the immune system, known as T cells, starts attacking the beta cells in the pancreas. But the researchers, led by Dr Kathleen Gillespie, believe that a related type of protective immune cell, called a regulatory T cell, works more effectively in slow progressors than in people who develop type 1 more rapidly. These regulatory T cells monitor the immune system’s T cells and stop them from attacking the body.

This suggests that if the Bristol team can identify what causes slow progression, their results could potentially lead to a treatment to delay the onset of type 1 diabetes in others.

‘It is well established that the presence of two or more islet auto antibodies in the blood is a very accurate marker for future type 1 diabetes. Yet some at risk individuals remain diabetes free for decades,’ said Gillespie.

‘The aim of our study is to identify how the onset of diabetes is delayed for many years in some individuals. We believe that understanding the nature of this protection will ultimately help protect others,’ she added.

A number of other JDRF researchers such as Dr Els Henckaerts are already investigating regulatory T cells as a possible route to a cure. They are seeking to generate long lived immune system regulatory cells (Treg cells.) These cells keep the immune system in check and can prevent it from attacking the body’s beta cells. However, in order to be effective, these Treg cells must be specific to beta cells.

The team aims to take Treg cells that have previously been identified as effective at delaying the onset of type 1 diabetes, clone them and then increase their lifespan by transforming them into stem cells. These stem cells then grow into adult Treg cells, giving them a longer life than the original adult cells, but keeping the beta cell protective properties of the original cells.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please see your doctor before making any changes to your diabetes management plan.

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