Fighting Type 1 Diabetes by Reprogramming the Immune System



New treatments that reprogram the immune system could serve as early interventions for children at high risk of developing type 1 diabetes (T1D), a serious and common chronic disease in childhood. Dr. Claire Jessup from the Flinders Health and Medical Research Institute (FHMRI) at the College of Medicine and Public Health has been awarded a two-year Tim Welborn Early Mid-career Research Fellowship by Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) Australia. Her research will explore an innovative approach to dampen autoimmune responses and prevent the progression of T1D.

Dr. Jessup, now based in Flinders’ newly opened Health and Medical Research Building, hopes this approach could one day be used to reprogram the immune response in young people before the onset of T1D. This autoimmune condition arises when the pancreas’s beta cells stop producing insulin due to an immune system attack, leading to glucose buildup in the blood.

In Australia, approximately 130,000 people live with T1D. Despite receiving optimal care, they face significant lifelong impacts, with an estimated economic cost of $2.9 billion annually. Improved screening for T1D in at-risk children presents a crucial opportunity for early intervention, though no preventative treatments are currently available.

“T1D typically requires lifelong insulin therapy and continuous glucose monitoring, which can be costly. Delaying the need for these treatments could be immensely beneficial,” says Dr. Jessup. “Our goal is to design a treatment that reduces pancreatic inflammation and prevents or delays diabetes onset. If successful, this approach could reduce or eliminate the need for insulin over a patient’s lifetime.

“Importantly, we aim to prevent long-term complications associated with T1D, reduce hospitalizations, and lessen the disabilities linked to managing this chronic disease,” she adds.

Dr. Jessup has received $134,232 from JDRF, one of the leading non-government funders of T1D research globally, for her fellowship project entitled ‘Fine-tuning immune checkpoint to prevent Type 1 diabetes.’

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