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Cardiff Immunologist receives Diabetes Research and Wellness Foundation fellowship

8 April 2021

Dr Stephanie Hanna
Dr Stephanie Hanna

Dr Stephanie Hanna from Cardiff University School of Medicine has been awarded the Professor David Matthews Non-Clinical Fellowship from the Diabetes Research & Wellness Foundation (DRWF) to study immune responses in type 1 diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes is caused when lymphocytes (T cells and B cells) from the immune system attack the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. Immunotherapy in type 1 diabetes aims to reduce this immune response.

To develop these treatments, it is important to be able to identify and monitor the lymphocytes that cause the damage. We cannot study these cells safely in the pancreas and numbers in the blood are very low.

Dr Hanna’s previous work with Dr Danijela Tatovic and Prof Colin Dayan, from the schools division of Infection and Immunity, demonstrated that after injecting molecules derived from the beta cells into the skin, lymphocytes that target the beta cells relocate to the skin and skin-draining lymph nodes, from where they can be easily extracted and analysed.

This fellowship will enable the study of these cells using state-of-the-art single cell RNA sequencing and use this information to develop highly targeted treatments for the immune response in type 1 diabetes.

The fellowship will focus on identifying T cell receptors and B cell receptors specific for molecules found on beta cells.

In the future, these could be expressed in “engineered” chimeric antigen receptor (CAR)-Treg cells, allowing them to home to the pancreas and prevent autoimmune destruction of beta cells.

Secondly, the fellowship will enable the study of antibodies produced by the lymphocytes as prognostic markers of diabetes development. In addition,

Dr Hanna will work on identifying novel biomarkers on the immune cells that could be used to monitor immunotherapies for type 1 diabetes, enabling more effective clinical trials.

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