Research shows that modifying gut cells to produce insulin can reduce the risk of type 1 in mice that are normally prone to the condition.
If the finding can be replicated in humans, it could lead to a way to delay or prevent the onset of type 1 in people who are genetically susceptible to developing it.
The gut cells being studied, known as K cells, already have the ability to sense blood glucose levels. This has made them a target for previous diabetes research, mostly aiming to find a way to get the body to produce its own insulin again, in response to changing glucose levels.
The Canadian team, which is part-funded by JDRF, focused on mice that were genetically prone to developing type 1, some of which had modified genes that meant their K cells could produce insulin.
This second group were found to have lower blood glucose levels and a lower rate of type 1 than their counterparts without modified K cells.
Importantly, unlike the beta cells of the pancreas – where insulin is normally produced – the K cells were not attacked by the immune system. In fact, the researchers found that the immune system was less likely to attack the beta cells of mice with insulin-producing K cells.
These findings suggest the process could be used as a way to dampen the immune response in people with type 1, as well as a way to support glucose management.
In this way, the research complements many other JDRF projects including the MonoPepT1De trial, which aims to condition the immune system to stop attacking beta cells, and encapsulation therapy, which would protect insulin-producing beta cells from the immune system.
Helen Albert, acting Head of Research Communication at JDRF, said: ‘This research presents a novel way of treating and potentially preventing type 1, which has great potential to improve the lives of people with the condition.’