Researchers from the University of Birmingham have identified a new way in which our immune systems are regulated – a discovery that could help us tackle the causes of type 1 diabetes.
Normally, the immune system carefully controls its response to infection and disease to avoid damaging other parts of the body. However, in autoimmune conditions such as type 1, the immune system becomes less well-regulated, allowing it to attack healthy cells and organs as though they were infections.
This new study looked at why this happens. The team discovered a mechanism that determines whether immune cells can move from the blood into healthy tissue. They believe a failure of this regulation process could contribute to autoimmune conditions such as type 1 and rheumatoid arthritis.
In particular, the researchers saw how one molecule is vital to this whole mechanism. By adding the molecule to immune cells from people with either of these two conditions, the team were able to regain control of the immune cells, stopping them from entering healthy organs in the body.
Professor Ed Rainger, from the University of Birmingham, explained: ‘Our discovery of this new regulatory pathway is very exciting. Not only does it reveal new ways in which our bodies control inflammation, it also indicates that we may be able design new drugs to reverse the loss of this pathway.’
He added: ‘The fact that the new pathway is relevant to both type 1 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis, which are quite different conditions, implies a broad applicability to many chronic inflammatory and autoimmune conditions.’
The researchers now hope to test their findings by running clinical trials of drugs that can target this mechanism. If successful, such treatments could be used to disrupt the immune attack that causes type 1, potentially forming part of a cure for the condition.
The research was published in the journal Nature Medicine.