Germs could play a role in the development of type 1 diabetes by triggering the body’s immune system to destroy the cells that produce insulin, new University research suggests.
Scientists have previously shown that killer T-cells, a type of white blood cell that normally protects us from germs, play a major part in type 1 diabetes by destroying insulin producing cells, known as beta cells.
Now, using Diamond Light Source, the UK’s synchrotron science facility to shine intense super powerful X-rays into samples, a team from the University’s Systems Immunity Research Institute found the same killer T-cells that cause type 1 diabetes are strongly activated by some bacteria.
The team hope this research will lead to new ways to diagnose, prevent or even halt type 1 diabetes.
Professor Andy Sewell, lead author of the study, said: “Killer T-cells are extremely effective at killing off germs, but when they mistakenly attack our own tissues, the effects can be devastating.”
“During type 1 diabetes, killer T-cells are thought to attack pancreatic beta cells. These cells make the insulin that is essential for control of blood sugar levels.
“When beta cells are destroyed, patients have to inject insulin every day to remain healthy.”
Unlike type 2 diabetes, type 1 diabetes is prevalent in children and young adults, and is not connected with diet. There is little understanding of what triggers type 1 diabetes and currently no cure with patients requiring life-long treatment.