New research has for the first time revealed nine “core” genes that are central to the development of type 1 diabetes. The findings provide hope that some of the genes will be potential targets for new immunotherapies.
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition that occurs when the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas. A complex mix of genetic and environmental factors contribute to this situation. It is known that many individual genes have a very small cumulative effect on risk. Improving our knowledge of the genes linked to type 1 diabetes and the processes that they control provides the prospect of being able to intervene to stop its development.
The new study, led by researchers at the University of Edinburgh, analysed how different genes impact the risk of developing type 1 diabetes, with the aim of identifying the those with the biggest impact and others which only have small effects.
The team identified nine core genes, all linked to activity in the immune system, that have direct and powerful effects on type 1 diabetes risk. Seven of these have a crucial role in the regulation of the immune cells that attack the pancreas. Two are linked to the part of the immune system that is responsible for detecting threats, such as bacteria and viruses, and had not previously been associated with type 1 diabetes.
It is hoped that these core pathways can be targeted with immunotherapies that could prevent, delay or treat type 1 diabetes. In 2022, teplizumab became the first immunotherapy for the delay of type 1 diabetes onset, when it was approved for use in the US. For everyone at risk of or affected by the condition to benefit, however, a range of treatments will be necessary to target the many ways that the immune system can attack beta cells.
The study results can be read in full here.