Scientists have identified a previously unknown molecule that attacks the immune system in people with Type 1 diabetes, a condition in which the body’s immune system destroys the cells that produce insulin. (Type 2 diabetes, which is often associated with lifestyle factors, impairs the body’s ability to use insulin properly.) This “missing piece” of the diabetes puzzle could help researchers develop treatments to slow or even stop the progression of the disease, and assist in determining people at risk for developing diabetes and prevent its development.
“We’re hoping that, by having identified the major targets in the disease, we can find ways to prevent it by blocking the immune response to these five proteins without leaving that person vulnerable to infections,” said Dr. Michael Christie, who led the research team at the University of Lincoln. “With recent improvements in our understanding of the disease, I’m very hopeful we’ll develop a treatment now; I have a lot more confidence than even five years ago.”
Scientists had previously identified four molecules that are attacked by the immune system in Type 1 diabetes: Insulin, glutamate decarboxylase, IA-2, and zinc transporter-8. Researchers have been tracking the elusive fifth molecule for the past 20 years, originally calling it “Glima.” Now, Christie’s team of researchers have successfully identified and named this fifth molecule as Tetraspanin-7. With a more complete picture of the processes that lead to diabetes, researchers hope to develop new treatments for the disease.
More than 1.25 million Americans have been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, also known as juvenile diabetes because it is the most common type of diabetes to affect children. In patients with Type 1 diabetes, the body does not produce insulin, a hormone the body needs to get glucose from the bloodstream into the cells of the body. Scientists have noted
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