Scientists at University College London have found that a blood test could identify which people may benefit from an immunotherapy drug currently being trialled in type 1 diabetes.
The findings could eventually lead to the drug becoming available to these people, to shield their insulin-producing beta cells from immune attack.
Protecting beta cells from the immune system is key to slowing or preventing the development of type 1 diabetes.
And, combined with a way to replace or regrow beta cells, it could one day lead to a cure for type 1.
Bringing immunotherapies to type 1 diabetes
The drug in question, abatacept, is already used by people with rheumatoid arthritis – another autoimmune condition.
However, research has found that its benefits in type 1 diabetes are hard to predict. Some people benefit a lot, while others don’t benefit at all.
This makes it difficult to prove the efficacy of abatacept as a routine treatment for people with type 1.
A test to predict who will benefit from abatacept could make it possible to trial the drug in these people specifically and, one day, license it as a treatment for type 1 diabetes.
Underpinned by JDRF research
The discovery is based on JDRF-funded research from the same lab group at UCL, led by Professor Lucy Walker.
In 2014, they uncovered the role that a type of immune cell (called a follicular helper T cell) plays in causing type 1 diabetes.
The new research shows that these same immune cells could be used to predict which people may benefit from abatacept.
Professor Walker said: “Abatacept is already widely used to treat other autoimmune conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis.
“Being able to tell in advance who is likely to respond may reignite interest in this therapy for those with diabetes.
“Our new work suggests that by analysing these T cells, and looking at the markers they express, we can make predictions about how well people will respond to abatacept.”
Conor McKeever, Research Communications Manager at JDRF, said: “Immunotherapies already exist for a number of autoimmune conditions, but for too long type 1 diabetes has been left behind.
“This research could help to bring a sorely needed treatment to thousands of people with type 1.”
The research was published in the journal Nature Immunology.
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