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Blocking the immune system puts type 1 in reverse

02 August 2012

Two studies published recently in the prestigious journal The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) have discovered a new way to reverse type 1 in mice.

Both studies found that blocking a molecule in the immune system called IL-7 can stop the immune system attacking insulin producing beta cells. Following treatment with an IL-7 blocker, normal glucose levels were restored in up to 85% of mice who had new-onset diabetes.

On top of that, when the treatment course was completed, the mice remained free of type 1. This is particularly interesting as some other experimental immune therapies only seem to stop the immune attack for the duration of the treatment.

IL-7 is a molecule that is released by cells to help them signal and communicate with other cells. The researchers in these studies found that IL-7 upsets the part of the immune system that controls unwanted immune responses like the immune attack of beta cells. Blocking IL-7 helps the immune system control these rogue attacks and seems to stop the attack on beta cells.

Blocking IL-7 is an interesting new approach to treating type 1 and these studies have given us a new insight into how the condition develops. Another IL molecule, IL-2, has already been shown in other studies to fight against type 1 by helping the immune system regulate itself.  If these results can be translated into humans, the IL family of molecules may become exciting new drug targets.

JDRF-funded researcher Dr Lucy Walker who worked on one of the studies said, ‘These results suggest that the IL-7 may contribute to the autoimmune response in type 1 diabetes by interrupting a pathway that normally suppresses unwanted immune responses.  This provides new information about how the immune function may be altered in people with type 1 and is an exciting step forward in our understanding of this condition.’ 

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