Immune cells may be responsible for type 1 diabetes, study finds

New research into the role that the immune system plays in type 1 diabetes may lead to improved treatments for the condition in the near future.

Researchers from the University of British Columbia found that an overabundance of a certain type of T cell may be the cause of many children's type 1 diabetes. Suppressing this cell may help individuals overcome their condition.

Rusung Tan and his team of investigators report in their study, which published in The Journal of Immunology, that Th17 - a type of cell in the immune system that responds to attacks from foreign bodies, like viruses - may also destroy insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. Elevated levels of Th17 have previously been observed in other autoimmune disorders, such as Crohn's disease.

"In healthy individuals, Th17 cells provide a strong defense against bacteria and viruses by guiding the immune system to strongly attack infected targets within our bodies," Tan said. "The elevated levels of Th17 cells in type 1 diabetes patients suggest that these cells may also play a key role in the early development of this disease in young patients."

He added that the findings could lead scientists to develop better treatments for conditions that suppress the autoimmune response.