Around 140,000 Australians live with type 1 diabetes. Six new cases are diagnosed every day. Unable to produce the insulin needed to turn sugars from food into energy, sufferers rely on insulin injections to regulate their blood sugar levels.
The condition is hard to control and can lead to devastating consequences, including cardiovascular disease, kidney and eye problems, and even premature death.
We know that type 1 diabetes develops when misguided cells from the body’s own immune system destroy the beta cells that produce insulin in the pancreas. New research from the USA suggests that these misguided cells might also attack a new type of immune cell, in a completely unexpected immune response.
But we need to understand these processes better if we are to develop new therapies for this terrible autoimmune disease.
Exactly how and why the immune system destroys insulin-producing beta cells is still unclear. This research is exploring new ideas that could provide an explanation.
The project is also seeking to identify the targets of the autoimmune response that causes type 1 diabetes. The aim is to be able to develop a blood test that can measure the strength of the autoimmune response against a person’s insulin-producing beta cells – potentially improving the diagnosis of type 1 diabetes before the patient needs insulin injections.
The research will also identify new antigens – the triggers for the autoimmune response – that can be used to develop new antigen-specific therapies. Those therapies could safely curb the autoimmune response that causes diabetes, allowing us to prevent or reverse the disease without compromising the patient’s immune system.
Dr Pushpak Bhattacharjee
Dr Bhattacharjee began his research career in India, where he was awarded a government-funded fellowship to pursue a postdoctoral position at Bose Institute, Kolkata. In 2014 he moved to Texas Tech University to continue his immunology research. He arrived in Australia in 2018 and joined St Vincent’s Institute the following year.
Since completing his PhD in 2011, Dr Bhattacharjee has published work in numerous leading journals. He has also mentored and trained several students.