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Taking control of the immune system

04 July 2012

JDRF-funded researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden have managed to stop the immune system attack on beta cells that causes type 1 in mice.

In the study which was published in the journal Diabetes this week, researchers found that injecting mice with immune cells called macrophages stopped the attack on beta cells.

Macrophages are a type of immune cell that can either protect cells from an immune attack or be the attacker, depending on which signals they receive from other cells around them.  The first part of this study, which was led by Dr Robert Harris, identified the signals that macrophages need to become protective.

The team were then able to use these signals to coax macrophages into the protective mode. The protective macrophages were then injected into mice whose immune system had begun to attack beta cells but were not yet insulin dependent.  Following the injection of macrophages, mice were less likely to develop type 1 and most could maintain their own insulin production.

 In type 1 diabetes, the immune system attacks the insulin producing cells in the pancreas. Finding a way to stop this attack early on may help to protect the remaining beta cells and allow people with the condition to continue producing at least some of their own insulin.

Maebh Kelly, Research Communication Officer at JDRF said ‘Understanding how cells in the immune system are directed to attack or defend other cells is an important step towards the development of immune therapies that can halt the development of type 1. Dr Harris’ research has provided us with new insight into the signals that tell the immune system what to do and how we can control them’.

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