English researchers have made a major discovery regarding how the immune system is attacked during the development of type 1 diabetes.
Previous studies have shown that there are five key targets that the immune system attacks in type 1 diabetes. In this new study, scientists at the University of Lincoln discovered the fifth and final primary target attacked by the immune system.
The other four targets have already been identified, but the fifth and final one has proven to be the most elusive of all. Researchers have been investigating it for over 20 years.
Lead researcher Dr Michael Christie told the BBC: “With this new discovery, we have now finished identifying what the immune system is targeting – we have the complete picture.”
The newly discovered fifth target is a human protein called tetraspanin-7. The researchers explained: “Tetraspanin-7 was confirmed as an autoantigen by demonstrating binding to autoantibodies in type 1 diabetes. We identify tetraspanin-7 as a target of autoimmunity in diabetes, allowing its exploitation for diabetes prediction and immunotherapy.”
The other four targets are insulin, Glutamate decarboxylase, IA-2 and Zinc transporter-8 – the last three are involved in secreting or storing insulin.
The Lincoln researchers believe the long-awaited discovery of the fifth target could lead to the development of more effective treatments for type 1 diabetes.
“With this new discovery, we have now finished identifying what the immune system is targeting – we have the complete picture,” said Christie. “Once the immune system decides it wants to get rid of something it’s very hard to stop, so diabetes has proved to be a difficult disease to prevent.
“So we’re hoping that, by having identified the major targets in the disease, we can find ways to prevent it by blocking the immune response to these five proteins without leaving that person vulnerable to infections.
“With recent improvements in our understanding of the disease I’m very hopeful we’ll develop a treatment now; I have a lot more confidence than even five years ago.”
The study appears in the journal Diabetes.

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