WA researchers have helped find a genetic trigger for type 1 diabetes, paving the way for a drug that could boost insulin-making cells.
Part of a global consortium, scientists from the Harry Perkins Institute for Medical Research have identified an area of DNA linked to the autoimmune condition that affects 130,000 Australians.
Type 1 diabetes is caused by the pancreas not producing enough insulin because the necessary cells have been destroyed by the body’s own immune system.
The institute’s diabetes research leader Grant Morahan, co-ordinator of the Asia-Pacific arm of the worldwide study, said yesterday the finding was significant because it helped unravel how the condition developed.
“We have known for a long time that people’s genetic factors make them more or less at risk of developing type 1 diabetes,” Professor Morahan said.
“We have recently identified many of these genetic factors, however, the mechanisms by which these genes worked has been largely unknown.”
The study, published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the US, pinpoints how a variation of a gene known as cathepsin H, or CTSH, contributes to diabetes.
Professor Morahan said that when looking at blood cells donated by 178 people with type 1 diabetes, Perth researchers found different levels of CTSH.
Their Danish colleagues then showed that higher levels of the gene protected the body’s antibody-producing B cells from dying when attacked by the immune system.
It meant people had better cell function and slower progression to type 1 diabetes.
Professor Morahan said proving this protective effect meant it was possible to develop a drug that could increase production of the gene in B cells, which could ward off type 1 diabetes.