Scientists at the UCL Institute of Immunity & Transplantation (IIT) are part of a team to receive £997,000 from the Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge, a new partnership involving The Steve Morgan Foundation, Diabetes UK and JDRF.
Previous research led by Professor Lucy Walker (UCL IIT) found that an existing immunotherapy called Abatacept could be made to work better by combining it with low-dose interleukin-2 (IL-2). The combined therapy suppressed disease-causing immune cells, but spared cells with regulatory function and could inhibit autoimmune diabetes in a mouse model.
The new research will study the effects of this combination therapy in people for the first time to assess whether it has the same benefits as it does in mice. The clinical work will be led by Dr Danijela Tatovic at Cardiff University, with the analysis of how the therapy affects the immune system led by Professor Walker. Within the UCL team, Dr Andreas Mayer will use mathematical modelling to understand in detail how different immune cells are impacted by treatment.
People with type 1 diabetes will be recruited from the Royal Free Hospital and University Hospital Wales to participate in the study.
Professor Walker said: "We are thrilled to have the opportunity to take our research findings to the next stage and explore how this therapy works in people. Our aim is to alter the immune response so that it no longer damages the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. This could be used to inhibit type 1 diabetes in those recently diagnosed, by tackling the root cause of the disease rather than just treating the symptoms."
If the results of the research are positive, this could pave the way for a clinical trial to test this approach in people with type 1 diabetes. The therapy has the potential to prevent the disease occurring or reverse the onset in people recently diagnosed who still have some insulin-producing beta cells.
We're in a hugely exciting period for the Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge, as today we welcome six exceptional scientists who will lead exciting multi-disciplinary teams to drive forward this pioneering initiative and build momentum towards our ambitious goal.
This announcement brings with it fresh hope of a cure for everyone living with type 1 diabetes, and we look forward to seeing how these projects will break new ground in our search for life-changing beta cell therapies and treatments to overcome the type 1 immune system attack."
Dr Elizabeth Robertson, Director of Research at Diabetes UK