A pioneering discovery in a specific collection of cells could help predict the onset of type 1 diabetes in the future, researchers have said.
The breakthrough involves mucosal-associated invariant T (MAIT) cells, which play a part in the body’s immune system.
Type 1 diabetes develops when the body’s immune system starts to attack the pancreas’s beta cells, but researchers do not yet understand the exact mechanisms behind this.
MAIT cells play an important part of immunity, which is why French researchers from the Centre Nationnal de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) and Paris University wanted to investigate what role they may play within type 1 diabetes, which is an autoimmune disease.
The trial involved studying a combination of samples taken from human and animal models, to observe the migration of MAIT cells and the role they have within type 1 diabetes development.
They found that MAIT cells are always lower in children who have been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes compared to those who do not have the condition. MAIT cells were shown to alter slightly before type 1 diabetes had developed, suggesting changes in the cells could help predict the development of type 1 diabetes.
Additional experiments on both human and animal cells revealed a direct link between the MAIT cells and the destroyed pancreatic cells.
The researchers also identified a link between a defect in MAIT cells and changes in the gut’s bacteria, which is another type 1 diabetes indicator. The defect, which kick starts the autoimmune response, can make the gut vulnerable to other bacteria. Maintaining a normal function of MAIT cells is therefore pivotal for homeostasis (the body’s ability to keep its internal environment well balanced).
The findings could help researchers develop type 1 diabetes treatments and prevention therapies in the future.
The study was published online in the journal Nature.

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