Type 1 diabetes suspect virus mysteries revealed

Posted on 22 June 2018

Person administering vaccine to arm

The hunt for a type 1 diabetes vaccine could be boosted by new research insights into how the immune system responds to a particular virus.

Researchers have found that immune cells recognise multiple virus parts when dealing with a coxsackie B virus infection.

Coxsackie B viruses – CBVs – are prime suspects at the moment in the hunt for what could be triggering type 1 diabetes.

These findings could help to improve designs for vaccines that could protect some people from ever developing type 1 diabetes.

Why did they do this research?

Researchers have for some time suspected CBVs of playing a role in triggering or exacerbating type 1 diabetes. What remains unclear however is how exactly CBVs could be doing this.

If we can work out how the body responds to a CBV infection, we may be able to design vaccines and treatments to protect against CBVs, and potentially protect some people from ever developing type 1 diabetes.

The researchers therefore wanted to investigate how certain types of immune cells respond to a CBV infection. The team included Professor Mark Peakman, who JDRF funds on other projects.

What did they do?

The researchers used a computer program to predict which parts of the virus could be recognised and bound to by immune cells.

The team then compared in the lab how immune cells from people with type 1 diabetes responded to those parts of the virus, compared with people without type 1.

What did they find?

Immune cells seems to be able to recognise and bind to eight different parts of the virus. In the lab analysis, immune cells were more likely to recognise multiple parts of the virus, rather than a single part.

There appeared to be no differences in the immune cell responses between people with type 1 diabetes and those without.

What does this mean for type 1?

These findings provide a new insight into how the body responds to CBV infection. Researchers will be able to use this information to track how the immune system responds to CBV infection, and also to improve designs for a vaccine to protect against CBV.

This was a small study carried out in the lab however, and so more work will be needed to understand more fully how the immune system fights a CBV infection, and the role it could play in type 1 diabetes.

What’s the next step?

The researchers have indicated in their paper that further studies are needed with more participants, as well as studies on children and people at an earlier stage of type 1 diabetes progression.

Blood glucose levels testing

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