University of Queensland researchers are developing a simple test that may predict whether a child will develop Type 1 diabetes.
Professor Ranjeny Thomas and her colleagues from UQ’s Diamantina Institute for Cancer, Immunology and Metabolic Medicine, have identified a cellular pathway known as NF-kappa B that is activated in blood cells of people with Type 1 diabetes.
“Blood cells are the major infection and immune-control cells of the body, called monocytes and dendritic cells,” Professor Thomas said.
“Monocytes from healthy people are ‘quiet’ in the blood and if we expose them to infection outside the body, the NF-kappa B pathway gets activated.
“In individuals with Type 1 diabetes, we found monocyte NF-kappa B was already activated in the blood, and when exposed to infection the pathway shut down. This tells us something fundamental about the problems of immune control that cause diabetes to develop in children.
“As a spin off, by simply taking blood, we hope to now be able to identify if a child will develop diabetes.
Professor Thomas said Type 1 diabetes is caused by problems in the immune system, so that the pancreas is not tolerated – like an organ rejection.
“In a similar way, people with rheumatoid arthritis don’t tolerate their own joints, and they get inflamed, sore and swollen,” she said.
“The pancreas of diabetics doesn’t get sore but it gets inflamed, and then stops producing the hormone insulin. Insulin is needed to control blood sugar.”
She said the test would target families with a history of diabetes with the aim of picking up other children at risk.
“Currently available tests pick up this risk rather late and in relatively few people, when there is already evidence of intolerance of the pancreas. We are investigating at what stage our test becomes abnormal,” she said.
“With various trials of vaccines for diabetes underway, the potential is there to identify and intervene in children at risk of Type 1 diabetes before it occurs.
“But what is also important, is that we are in a position to really investigate why the immune system loses control before the disease starts. That fundamental understanding will bring the vaccines of the future.”
The research has been published this week in the Journal of Immunology.
Media: Professor Ranjeny Thomas (07 3240 5365) or Andrew Dunne at UQ Communications (0433 364 181).