New study explores the genetic factors and immune response to type 1 diabetes

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A recent study found a direct correlation between genetic factors associated with type 1 diabetes and the body’s immune response.

The study, published in eLife, was conducted by researchers from various university medical centers in Germany and the Netherlands. For the study, scientists sought to better understand the body’s immune response to type 1 diabetes, a condition in which the immune system attacks insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas.

“To characterize the body’s immune response in type 1 diabetes, we need to look at both the proportion of immune cells and their production of proteins – cytokines – that stimulate the immune system,” said Xiaojing Chu, doctorate student at the University Medical Center Groningen and first co-author of the study. “In our study, we explored how genetic factors affect immune cells and their cytokine production in people with type 1 diabetes, as well as the differences between the immune response in patients and a healthy response.”

Blood samples were collected from 243 Dutch volunteers with type 1 diabetes aged 20 to 84 years old. To identify the genetic factors that contribute to immune functionality in participants, researchers applied genetic association analysis on the blood samples on over 200 immune cell traits and 100 cytokine production profiles. Then, using a technique know as genome-wide quantitative trait loci (QTL) mapping, the study’s scientists analyzed immune traits.  They compared their results with the results from previous studies that collected similar data on healthy participants.

Through their research, scientists identified a group of T cells as a contributor to type 1 diabetes that are called CCR5+ regulatory cells. According to researchers, these cells affected the constrained coding region on the genome. In addition, the study found 15 genetic commands that influenced the behavior of immune cells in patients with type 1 diabetes, 12 of which had not been identified in healthy people. Finally, the team identified 11 genes that may be candidates for drug development.

“Our findings provide a deeper understanding of the immune mechanisms involved in the development of type 1 diabetes and that affect the general inflammatory response in patients,” said Yang Li, PhD, professor of computational biology and director of the Centre for Individualized Infection Medicine (CiiM), Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research, Hannover, Germany. “We hope this work will open up new avenues for the development of much-needed treatments.”