A key discovery about the immune system could help scientists understand more about how type 1 diabetes develops.
Because type 1 diabetes is caused when T cells (immune cells) attack insulin-producing cells, research is investigating the process behind this.
The CD4+ T cells recognise a part of the insulin-producing beta cells as foreign invaders, and attack them.
When blood was taken from the arms of people with newly-diagnosed type 1 diabetes, the blood contained T cells that recognised C-peptide, a precursor of how much insulin your body is producing.
C-peptide was recognised by CD4+ T cells in more than 60% of participants with type 1 diabetes, but in less than 10% of people without type 1 diabetes. Moreover, the proteins in the body which recognised C-peptide are associated with an increased type 1 diabetes risk.
The University of Melbourne researchers said: “Our study shows that the T cells respond most robustly to the full-length C-peptide. This points to C-peptide being an important, clinically relevant target of disease-causing CD4+ T cells in people with type 1 diabetes.
“This knowledge will allow us to begin to develop preventative therapies to stop the aberrant immune response before it does irreversible damage.”
Now, the researchers hope the discovery could be used to inhibit progression of type 1 diabetes among people at high risk.
“Our results will allow the development of blood tests to determine whether a person is likely to get type 1 diabetes and to measure how well a therapy to stop the progression of the disease is working.”
This study has been published in the journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences).