A battle of the cells in a bid to cure diabetes 13 May 2021 In the body of a person with type 1 diabetes, a battle has been fought. The immune system has attacked the beta cells responsible for making insulin and because they can no longer do this, people with type 1 diabetes need to administer insulin. But researchers are getting closer to stopping the battle before the immune cells have destroyed the beta cells. One of the researchers leading the charge is Professor Thomas Kay, Director of St Vincent’s Institute. “The immune system kills the beta cells in a form of hand to hand combat if you like. A cell of the immune system comes right up close to an insulin producing cell and delivers chemicals which kill the target cell, the beta cell,” Professor Kay said. “We were interested in the chemicals that kill the beta cell and whether drugs could be developed to stop those chemicals from killing the beta cell.” In 2003, Professor Kay and his team received a Type 1 Diabetes Millennium Award from Diabetes Australia. The $150 000 Grant supports researchers undertaking long-term projects. In type 1 diabetes, the body loses its ability to produce insulin. People living with the condition must replace the insulin that isn’t being created with either multiple daily injections of insulin, or with an insulin pump. “That’s an imperfect process. It’s a big job for people with diabetes, and it’s a significant burden,” Professor Kay said. Researchers around the world are exploring a variety of ways to eliminate the need for insulin injections in people with type 1 diabetes. Professor Kay and his team want to prevent diabetes from the beginning. “We’re interested in stopping the beta cells from being destroyed by the immune system in the first place. This is an idea of how treatment might change for diabetes in the future,” he said. Professor Kay and his team are about to start a clinical trial examining whether medication can stop the immune system from attacking insulin-producing beta cells. However, funding remains key to enabling researchers to continue their work. “The Millennium Award and the Diabetes Australia Research Program are crucial for diabetes researchers,” he said. “It’s an exciting and inspiring career where making discoveries is incredibly thrilling. The idea that that might actually help people with significant health problems, that’s an additional dimension that makes medical research particularly rewarding.” Diabetes Australia is on a mission to find a cure for diabetes. We rely on your generosity to fund important research to help improve the lives of people living with diabetes. If you would like to help you can donate here.