Can Blocking Immune Signals Prevent Type 1 Diabetes?

In cases of type 1 diabetes, the body's immune system attacks beta cells in the pancreas, rendering them unable to produce insulin. Currently, there are 1.25 million American children and adults living with type 1 diabetes – but thanks to recent scientific discoveries, type 1 diagnoses just might be preventable.

According to a German study, blocking a specific molecule in the immune system could prevent the onset of autoimmune disorders, including type 1 diabetes.

TFH and Type 1: A Connection

This study, published in PNAS and conducted by the Institute of Diabetes Research (IDF) of Helmholtz Zentrum München, examined the immune systems of children who had suffered autoimmune attacks. Scientists noticed that these children had an increased number of T follicular helper cells (TFH) – cells that are known to help produce the antibodies that attack beta cells.

With this knowledge in mind, study author Dr. Carolin Daniel and her team turned their attention to the TFH cells, seeking to understand the mechanisms behind their antibody production. They discovered a signalling pathway previously unnoticed by scientists, and a molecule that was behind it all. This molecule, called miRNA92a, instigates a chain of events in the body that increased the production of TFH cells.

Jamming The Signal

Once researchers understood how miRNA92a worked, they used mice to study how different treatments would impact the molecule. Ultimately, Dr. Daniel's team found that the drug antagomir blocked the molecule's signalling pathway. With miRNA92a blocked, the team found that the mice's bodies produced significantly fewer TFH cells, and the antibodies that attacked beta cells decreased substantially.

"The targeted inhibition of miRNA92a or the downstream signaling pathway could open up new possibilities for the prevention of type 1 diabetes," the team explained in their report. Additionally, the new developments regarding TFH cells can help act as biomarkers to measure the effects of a diabetes vaccine in the future.

Thanks to the tireless efforts of the science and medical communities, type 1 diabetes may one day be a condition of yesteryear.

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