type 1 diabetes

Researchers have taken a step further towards understanding how type 1 diabetes affects develops.

It has been known for a number of years that a type of immune cell, called T cells, are responsible for targeting and killing the insulin producing beta cells of the pancreas. The latest research goes a step further and identifies a specific type of T cell as being strongly associated with type 1 diabetes.

The cells found by the researchers are follicular helper T cells. The identification of these cells came after the researchers noticed that Th1 cells that had been previously linked with type 1 diabetes were not showing as consistent results as expected.

The research team, led by Professor Lucy Walker of University College London, has been investigating the cause of type 1 diabetes for six years and their latest investigation involved both mice and human subjects using a variety of research methods including genetic analysis.

Step closer to a cure

The study deepens the understanding of type 1 diabetes and could represent the chance to better identify the condition. In a best case scenario, the research could also lead to new ways of intervening to halt the development of type 1 diabetes, however, more will need to be understood before this can become a likely outcome.

Prof. Walker notes that the discovery puts them a step closer to finding a cure but notes that they will need to understand why follicular helper T cells expand in people with type 1 diabetes.

The researchers note that their research includes some limitations. For example, the human participants had average disease duration of 19 years and therefore it is possible that the long duration of insulin treatment, for example, could modify the T cell phenotype.

The research is published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.