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T-cells and diabetes

16 November 2009

Professor Andy SewellProfessor Andy Sewell

The University’s latest research into Type 1 diabetes will be outlined by a Cardiff scientist as part of a local conference.

Professor Andy Sewell of the School of Medicine will speak at the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and Diabetes UK Cymru Open Meeting on 21 November 2009.

Recently, the Foundation awarded Professor Sewell and a team from the School more than $465,000 (approx £280,000) to examine the role of T-cells in Type 1 diabetes.

T-cells are essential in the human immune system, controlling and protecting us from disease but T-cells can also malfunction causing autoimmune conditions such as diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes is the result of an autoimmune attack by T-cells on beta cells in the pancreas. Beta cells are the only cells able to manufacture the hormone insulin that regulates blood sugar (glucose) levels. Type 1 diabetes is the most severe form of the disease and often manifests itself early in childhood.

As part of his presentation, Professor Sewell will explain how the funding will enable the Cardiff team to examine whether the receptors on the T-cells that attack beta cells can be used as a marker of this disease. If such markers are discovered, the team will look for them in the relatives of Type 1 diabetics that are known to be at high risk of contracting the disease.

Professor Sewell said: "We find that individual T-cell receptors can act as a marker of T-cell responses to all the viruses we have examined to date. It is therefore possible that T-cell receptors could be used as markers of when T-cells inadvertently go wrong and attack our own tissues. In addition to increasing our understanding of Type 1 diabetes the research could offer the ability to predict who has the disease before there are any symptoms. This will enable early treatment and better protection of remaining insulin-producing beta cells before they are destroyed by the body’s immune system."

Dr Garry Dolton working in the laboratoryDr Garry Dolton working in the laboratory

The Cardiff team is internationally recognised for its work into T-cells. They have already helped successfully engineer T-cell receptors that can recognise all the different disguises that HIV is known to have used to evade detection and have just started a major research project examining T-cell receptor promiscuity.

Dr Garry Dolton, of the Sewell laboratory, will spearhead work in Cardiff. He will be assisted by Professor David Price, recent winner of the Graham Bull Prize for Clinical Science from the Royal College of Physicians. The Cardiff team will collaborate with Professor Mark Peakman, a world-renowned expert in Type 1 diabetes, from King’s College London.

The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and Diabetes UK Cymru Open Meeting runs from 10am – 3pm on 21 November at the Novotel Hotel, Cardiff. Tickets for the event can be reserved online at:

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