To prevent type 1 diabetes, we need to fix the immune system fault that lies at the heart of the condition. Doing so would lift the burden of this condition from future generations, and help us in the search for the cure.
Prevent the immune system from ever targeting insulin-producing cells
Truly preventing type 1 means being able to stop the immune system going awry in the first place. We must stop it from developing cells that can attack and destroy beta cells. To do this we need to know what causes type 1 to develop.
Genetic research has brought us a long way to understanding who is at risk of developing type 1, but as yet we do not know why some people at risk go on to get type 1, while others never do.
Research to prevent type 1 diabetes before the autoimmune attack has begun is sometimes called ‘primary prevention’.
Halt the immune system attack before insulin is needed
Once the immune attack on a person’s insulin-producing cells has begun, it is a question of time before they develop ‘clinical’ type 1 diabetes, and they will need insulin to manage their glucose levels. Research tells us this might be as fast as a matter of months in some people, but could take many, many decades in others.
If we can identify people in whom the autoimmune attack has begun, before they need insulin, we might be able to prevent them ever needing insulin treatment at all.
This research is known as ‘secondary prevention’ and is about preventing the need for insulin therapy, not preventing the earliest stages of the immune attack.
Prevention and cure
Whether it’s primary or secondary prevention, our research in this area focuses on understanding and controlling the immune system. Combined with a way to regrow beta cells, that same knowledge could lead us to a cure for type 1. So the two research areas are strongly linked.