JDRFResearch ProjectsProtecting beta cells from the immune system

Protecting beta cells from the immune system

Dr Gavin Bewick
Dr Gavin Bewick

Scientific title: Exploring the translational potential of the NPY Y4 receptor for treating type 1 diabetes
Principal investigator: Dr Gavin Bewick
Institution: King’s College London
Duration of award: 01 November 2019 – 31 October 2021


In type 1 diabetes, the immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys beta cells, which produce insulin.

Dr Bewick is exploring ways to improve the health, performance and number of beta cells in the body, so that people with type 1 can be less reliant on insulin pumps and injections – or even, one day, live without them completely.

What will Dr Bewick do?

Most cells have special ‘receptor’ molecules on their surface. If these molecules are ‘switched on’, they can tell the cell how to behave.

Dr Bewick’s team previously identified receptor molecules on beta cells that are important for the cells’ health and survival.

They now want to create a drug that can trigger these receptor molecules to ‘switch on’ and protect beta cells from being attacked by the immune system.

This project has three main goals:

  1. To test a number of potential drugs to discover which ones are best at switching on the receptor.
  2. To see if these drugs protect beta cells from being destroyed.
  3. To find out if beta cells protected by specific drugs can still produce insulin and reduce blood glucose levels.

How will this research help people with type 1?

If tests show the drugs are safe and effective, these new treatments could go forward into clinical trials.

If trials are successful, the treatments could allow people with type 1 to produce enough insulin to be less reliant on insulin injections or pumps.

And, if combined with our research into growing new beta cells, this protection could one day allow us to replace the lost cells in people with type 1 – restoring their ability to produce their own insulin, and curing type 1 diabetes.

Is JDRF funding any other research like this?

We fund a lot of research projects that aim to protect the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas. This is a key part of our work to cure type 1 diabetes.

In the UK, we currently fund two projects led by Professor Colin Dayan at Cardiff University that aim to improve clinical trials of immunotherapies for type 1. You can read more here and here.

We also support TrialNet – a network of researchers looking to better understand how type 1 diabetes develops, and how it could be prevented.