Unknown diabetes molecule identified

By Editor
26th April 2016
Latest news, Research


Scientists have solved an immune system mystery relating to type 1 diabetes, which could help develop new ways to prevent and treat the disease.

Researchers from the University of Lincoln have identified a previously unknown molecule which is attacked by the immune system in people who have the condition.

Only four molecules had previously been discovered that are attacked by the immune system in type 1 diabetes.

‘Molecular targets’

Michael Christie

Dr Christie is the reader in the School of Life Sciences at the University of Lincoln and lead study author

The identity of a fifth molecule – known only as Glima for the past 20 years – has been a mystery, but researchers have now identified it as Tetraspanin-7.

Dr Christie, reader in the School of Life Sciences at the University of Lincoln and lead study author, said: “Being able to detect circulating autoantibodies and identify their molecular targets has allowed scientists to develop tests for the clinical diagnosis of type 1 diabetes, and for the identification of individuals at high risk of developing the disease.

“Evidence from both animal studies and human trials indicate that type 1 diabetes may be prevented in individuals at risk, and a number of therapies to interfere with immune responses have proved effective in preventing disease development in animals and in slowing the loss of insulin-secreting cell function in human patients.

“There is now a focus on the development of procedures to interfere specifically in immune responses that cause type 1 diabetes, and it is therefore absolutely essential that we gather as much information as possible about the major targets of autoimmune responses.

“We already had some knowledge about the physical properties of Glima but its molecular identity has for many years proved elusive. This has hampered the development of relevant autoantibody tests, but our research successfully identified Glima as the substance Tetraspanin-7. We can now exploit this knowledge for diabetes prediction and immunotherapy.”

Researchers are now looking  for ways to block the immune attack, in order to prevent type 1 diabetes from developing in those at a high risk.

The research, which was published in the journal Diabetes, was funded by Diabetes UK and the Society for Endocrinology.

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