type 1 diabetes
Surprisingly, we know very little about the molecular events that cause type 1 diabetes in humans. This is mainly because the pancreas cannot be accessed easily in living individuals and it is impossible to image the organ in a way that allows these processes to be studied non-invasively. Thus, much of what we have learned has come from the analysis of samples recovered from patients after their death. This is not ideal because,thankfully, most patients live for many years after they are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes but, as a result, many of the disease processes are no longer present. We are fortunate to have access to the world’s largest collection of pancreas samples recovered from patients who, sadly, died very soon after developing type 1 diabetes and we are able to use these to try to understand what causes type 1 diabetes. We are using these to study how the disease progresses across different regions of the pancreas; what role the immune system plays in causing the death of the beta-cells and whether there is evidence of viral infection and the activation of antiviral response mechanisms in islet cells. Overall, we expect that these studies will allow us to develop new, highly targeted, strategies to minimise the chance that susceptible individuals will develop type 1 diabetes in the future.