A discovery, published in the Science Immunology journal, has found that very early diagnosis or type 1 diabetes may be possible and help with efforts to delay development of the condition.
Researchers from the Scripps Research Institute in America have discovered a way to find out if a person is at risk of T1D.
The research involved immune-regulating molecules called human leukocyte antigens (HLAs). Researchers have previously linked their presence to immune system problems.
Blood samples taken from non-obese mice modelled to have a form of type 1 diabetes were analysed in a series of experiments over the course of five years.
CD4+ T cells are immune cells that, in type 1 diabetes, can incorrectly identify the body’s own insulin as a foreign agent, and bring about the destruction of the pancreas’ insulin-producing beta cells.
The research team discovered a structural mechanism, which they called the ‘P9 switch’, that enables CD4+ T cells which enables CD4+ T cells to spot the mutated HLA protein and attack the beta cells. The researchers observed that the P9 switch resulted in an anti-insulin response before it quickly disappeared.
If the process is found to be the same in humans, this could allow researchers to detect type 1 diabetes very early on, which could allow for interventions to delay type 1 diabetes at an early stage.
Lead researcher Luc Teyton, professor of immunology and microbiology at Scripps Research, said: “The translational aspect of this study is what’s most exciting to me.
“By using single-cell technologies to study the pre-diabetic phase of disease, we have been able to mechanistically link specific anti-insulin T cells with the autoimmune response seen in type 1 diabetes. And that has given us the confirmation we needed to move into human studies.”