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Australian scientists prevent onset of type 1 diabetes by making immune cells tolerate insulin-producing cells.

JDRF-funded researchers Ms Eliana Mariño and Dr Shane Grey have demonstrated the cells of the human immune system can be manipulated to prevent type 1 diabetes.

The body’s immune cells, or white blood cells, include B cells and T cells. B cells make antibodies and present ‘antigens’ to T cells, allowing them to recognise and kill invaders.

Previous research by the authors has showed that groups of B cells migrate to the pancreas and pancreatic lymph nodes and tell T cells to kill the cells that produce insulin.

Working with mice that spontaneously develop type 1 diabetes, the team used a special molecule called BCMA to block a hormone responsible for controlling the survival of B cells, called BAFF. As the B cells were removed using this technique, a special type of T cell (called regulatory T cells) increased and prevented the autoimmune attack on the pancreatic cells.

They found that after this treatment, none of the mice developed type 1 diabetes – a remarkable finding, as other B cell depletion methods have just delayed or reduced disease incidence.

The molecule BCMA is already being used in clinical trials for other autoimmune diseases, such as Sjogren’s Syndrome and Lupus and this result provides support for the development of a human type 1 diabetes trial.

This work was conducted under the auspices of the Diabetes Vaccine Development Centre (DVDC) at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney.

Diabetes published online April 29 2009

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  1. Is it possible to give a 2 year old child, who has been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in July this year, an anti-inflammatory medication to try and control the damage being done to her insulin cells? This child is at present on half insulin, half saline, and is still having hypos. She is surely still in the "honeymoon" phase, so is it possible to stop the immune system from damaging all her B cells? This child is my 2 year old grandaughter.

    1. Hi Lyn, these preventative therapies are all still in clinical trial phase so are not widely available…yet. It is important to remember that every case of type 1 is different, some people progress quickly through to full type 1 and others continue to produce sufficient amounts of their own insulin (the “honeymoon phase”) for quite some time. Your grand-daughters specialist will be able to tell you more about whether there are alternative treatment options available for her.

  2. People with Type 1 diabetes must maintain an insulin-monitoring and insulin-injecting regimen for the rest of their lives. And, Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition, where the body attacks its own insulin producing cells. So, thank you so much for demonstrating how a particular molecule may be used in future as a preventative therapy.

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  3. Hi, as I know, BCMA is a nonglycosylated integral membrane type I protein. It that correct? It is expressed in B lymphocytes. I guess I have to take a look at it and post an article on my german blog Thanks for your information.