General News

Scientists believe they may have found a preventative therapy for type 1 diabetes that makes the body tolerate the insulin-producing cells that would normally be attacked and destroyed at disease onset.

PhD student Eliana Mariño and Dr Shane Grey, from the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney, have demonstrated how a particular molecule may be used to prevent type 1 diabetes in the future. Their findings are published online in the international journal Diabetes.

JDRF’s Research Development Manager said this research, part funded by JDRF, is significant. “These results are impressive and they represent a promising step towards a vaccine for type 1 diabetes.”

“Significantly, related compounds have already been approved for clinical trials for other autoimmune diseases such as lupus, so we hope to see clinical trials with humans to prevent type 1 diabetes in around five years time.”

PhD student Eliana Mariño and Dr Shane Grey are pictured here with JDRF Youth Ambassador Brendan Rose.

How it works

White blood cells, the cells of the immune system that defend the body against infectious disease and foreign materials, include B cells and T cells. The B cells make antibodies and present ‘antigens’ to T cells, which help them to recognise, and kill, invaders.

In previously published studies about Type 1 diabetes, Dr Grey’s lab has shown that groups of B cells migrate to the pancreas and pancreatic lymph nodes, presenting specific insulin antigens to T cells. In other words, B cells go to the disease site and tell T cells to kill the cells that produce insulin.

“This study looks at different ways of subduing B cells, and how that affects development of the disease,” said Grey.

Working with mice that are genetically programmed to develop type 1 diabetes (NOD mice), Eliana Mariño found that if she blocked B cells known as BAFF cells, which control cell survival, before the mice developed type 1 diabetes, none of the mice in the study developed the disease.

“This is a remarkable finding, as other B cell depletion methods tested elsewhere have just delayed or reduced disease incidence,” said Eliana.

When B cells were depleted, the regulators of the immune system (a subclass of T cells known as T regulatory cells) rose in numbers.

By removing B cells from the picture for a while, it appears you allow T regulatory cells to function as they should, subduing killer T cells and somehow making them tolerant of the insulin producing cells.

The molecule used by Grey and colleagues to inhibit BAFF is known as BCMA, and is already being used in clinical trials for other autoimmune diseases, such as Sjogren’s Syndrome and Lupus.

Next Steps

The Diabetes Vaccine Development Centre (DVDC), which seeks to develop a vaccine for type 1 diabetes, is funding further research with the compound.

The DVDC is a jointly supported initiative of Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International and is administered through the Garvan Institute of Medical Research

TV News

This story was covered by ABC TV. Click on Video to hear YA Brendan Rose and JDRF Research Development Manager Dr Dorota Pawlak discuss this research.


The Garvan Institute of Medical Research was founded in 1963. Initially a research department of St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney, it is now one of Australia’s largest medical research institutions with nearly 500 scientists, students and support staff. Garvan’s main research programs are: Cancer, Diabetes & Obesity, Immunology and Inflammation, Osteoporosis and Bone Biology, and Neuroscience. The Garvan’s mission is to make significant contributions to medical science that will change the directions of science and medicine and have major impacts on human health. The outcome of Garvan’s discoveries is the development of better methods of diagnosis, treatment, and ultimately, prevention of disease.

Garvan Institute Media enquiries

Alison Heather, Science Communications Manager, Garvan Institute of Medical Research, 0434 071 326

JDRF Media enquiries

Lyndal Howison, Media and PR Executive, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, 0411 110 717

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