Skip to main content
Treatment research project

Studying a type of immune cell to develop drugs to target it

Dr Joanne Boldison is a researcher at the University of Exeter who is studying a type of immune cell called B lymphocytes, known as B-cells for short. She thinks they may be involved developing type 1 diabetes and could be a target for potential treatments for type 1 diabetes.
Content last reviewed and updated: 18.08.2023

Dr Joanne Boldison at the University of Exeter

What are B-cells?

Not to be confused with insulin-producing beta cells, B-cells are immune cells that exist throughout our bodies, including in the pancreas and the blood. Currently, we don’t know much about how B-cells behave during type 1. Joanne’s previous research suggests B-cells in the pancreas are linked to increased destruction of the beta cells.

Joanne’s JDRF-funded research project

Through this project, Joanne hopes to find new potential targets on B-cells in the pancreas for treatments for type 1. She also hopes to find these specific B-cells in the blood because this would be far easier to access for treatment than the pancreas.

Why is JDRF funding this project?

A treatment for type 1 could be aimed at B-cells in the pancreas. A therapy that specifically targets the immune cells inside the pancreas (rather than all immune cells) would mean fewer side effects for people with type 1. To find out if this could work, we need to understand more about how the B-cells in the pancreas function in type 1.

Finding B-cells in the pancreas

First, Joanne will try to find proteins on the surface of the B-cells in the pancreas that are unique markers of those cells. These markers would allow researchers to identify and study B-cells more easily. To do this, she will study pancreas samples donated by people recently diagnosed with type 1 and pancreas samples from people of the same age who don’t have type 1.

How do immune cells in the blood react?

Joanne will then take B-cells from white blood cells from five people without type 1 to understand how they work. She will expose the cells to various chemicals which stimulate the immune system. She will look at whether these B-cells become ‘activated’ in response to different chemicals. When immune cells are activated, they attack other cells and may release antibodies or chemicals which damage other cells. As well as looking out for this toxic release, Joanne will also see if the number of B-cells increases. She will also make a note of any different subsets of B-cells that she finds.

How will this project help people with type 1?

Joanne’s project will inform research to develop therapies for type 1 which target the B-cells. This small study could also act as a framework for a larger study to measure B-cell responses in people with type 1 in a clinical trial. Joanne’s research is essential for her research team’s larger grant application, which would include the recruitment of individuals with and at risk of developing type 1 diabetes.

Is JDRF funding any other research like this?

We fund lots of immunology research, which is research that targets the immune system. Working alongside B-cells in the immune system are immune cells called T-cells. We are also funding Professor Lucy Walker at University College London who is trying to target and interfere with the T-cells that go rogue in type 1 diabetes.

More treatment research projects

Read more
Professor Colin Dayan at Cardiff University, working on immunotherapy for type 1 diabetes cure research
Cure research project

Bigger, smarter, faster research into immunotherapy for type 1 diabetes

This award will help to fund the next generation of immunotherapy research, enabling more efficient clinical trials, in more locations, so that promising treatments can reach people sooner.

Read more
Professor Colin Dayan at Cardiff University
Cure research project

Better immunotherapy clinical trials for type 1 diabetes

This project aims to overcome two major roadblocks to developing and licensing immunotherapies for people newly diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.

Read more
Dr Gavin Bewick, a type 1 diabetes cure researcher, working on a project around beta cells and the immune system, in his lab.
Cure research project

Protecting beta cells from the immune system

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.

Read more
A type 1 diabetes researcher on Dr Rocio Sancho's team, working in the lab
Cure research project

What conditions are best for growing beta cells from stem cells?

This project is looking at a new way to turn stem cells into beta cells in the lab, to better understand what conditions make this process happen efficiently.