New research, funded by Diabetes UK, has uncovered nine ‘core’ genes that directly impact the risk of Type 1 diabetes. The genes – all linked to the immune system – reveal, for the first time, new immune system pathways that are critical in Type 1 diabetes development. These newly discovered pathways hold great potential to be new targets for immunotherapies to stop Type 1 Diabetes in its tracks.
Type 1 diabetes is caused by a complex mix of genetic and environmental factors. Many individual genes have previously been found to have a very small, cumulative effect on Type 1 diabetes risk and – in combination with environmental triggers – play a role in its development.
In the new study, researchers led by Professor Helen Colhoun and Professor Paul McKeigue at the University of Edinburgh developed a new method of analysing how different genes impact risk of developing Type 1 diabetes. Examining genetic data from almost 5,000 people with Type 1 diabetes and 7,500 people without Type 1 diabetes, the team pinpointed, for the first time, nine new ‘core’ genes – all linked to the immune system – that directly and powerfully affect Type 1 diabetes risk. Seven of these genes play a crucial role in regulating the immune cells that attack the pancreas in Type 1 diabetes.
Two of the genes are linked to part of the immune system’s first line of defence, responsible for detecting threats, such as bacteria or viruses, and launching an immediate attack. These pathways could in future be targeted with immunotherapies – treatments that work to reprogramme the immune system – to prevent or slow the development of Type 1 diabetes.