Dr Eoin McKinney will use new techniques to analyse the blood samples collected by TrialNet as part of their screening programme. This will produce a huge number of measurements, so he will use computer programs to look for patterns that could give us a better understanding of the processes taking place in the early stages of type 1 diabetes.
How did you get involved in type 1 research?
I came to T1D from a slightly unusual angle. My clinical background is in nephrology (kidneys) and transplants rather than diabetes and I started research by working on data analysis in other autoimmune diseases. This involved working with big datasets where sequencing technology had been used to measure which genes were turned on/off in a patient’s sample and looked at all genes at once (around 50,000 measurements on each sample).
I started by looking for two things – first, how to use all this information to come up with better tests that could help clinicians treat immune diseases by predicting what the disease would do next. Second, I tried to work out how to use that information to learn more about what causes immune disease, what makes it worse or how treatments might improve it. Finally, I was introduced to researchers in T1D (some of whom I worked with already in my University) and began to talk about applying the same approaches to diabetes. I have gradually become more and more involved, something I’m hoping to continue doing while continuing to learn from other diseases, too.
Has JDRF’s support made a difference?
JDRF support has made a huge difference. Firstly, with encouragement to get involved in T1D. Second, with constant discussion and support for what is a very international community of researchers. JDRF has basically been the glue that sticks everyone together and I’m sure none of what I’ve done so far would have happened without them. Now I am working on a project that is directly funded by JDRF, although there has been a huge amount of support and helpful discussion that lead up to that project being designed and taking shape. That support is increasing as my engagement with T1D increases for which I’m very grateful.
What keeps you motivated in your work as a scientist?
I spend much of my time trying to solve complicated problems and some motivation comes from the desire to continually improve the way we’re doing science. However, the work I’m doing is very ‘translational’. In other words, it has strong potential to very quickly turn into something that could impact on the way T1D is treated and the lives of people with it. This is the real motivation underlying many late nights and early mornings!
What is your hope for your research in the future?
My work aims to get a better understanding of the progression of T1D from the earliest stages through to diagnosis and beyond. I’m trying to use that understanding to get better tests that can drive better, earlier treatments. My hope is that we can begin to treat the immune disease, rather than rely on replacing what is lost. The exciting thing is that I think that goal is increasingly achievable.
When not in the lab, how do you spend your free time?
I can’t quite remember what free time is………! I have three young kids who keep me occupied for most of the time I’m not in the lab which is as exhausting as it is fun.