A new blood test being developed by researchers at University of British Columbia and BC Children’s Hospital may help doctors monitor patients with type 1 diabetes, potentially leading to improved predictions about disease progression and more effective, personalized treatments.
UBC has filed a provisional patent in the U.S. for a test panel that measures regulatory T cells (Tregs), a specialized type of white blood cell that plays a key role in preventing harmful immune responses. There is significant evidence that Treg malfunctions lead to type 1 diabetes, by allowing the body’s immune system to destroy insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.
Megan Levings, a Professor in the UBC Department of Surgery, identified a genetic signature that can measure changes in Tregs from a small blood sample. Her findings were published in Diabetes.
“New therapies for type 1 diabetes that work by boosting Treg function are already in clinical trials, but we don’t fully understand how Tregs work and why they sometimes fail,” says Dr. Levings, an investigator at the Child & Family Research Institute at BC Children’s Hospital. “Also, until now, there was no easy way to track changes in Tregs inside our bodies. This test may enable us to provide more personalized treatment options by allowing us to determine which patients are most likely benefit from Treg-directed therapies.”
Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed during childhood, meaning patients must live with the condition for their entire lives. Although regular insulin injections allow most people to manage it, the condition can still lead to life-threatening complications. Research has shown that type 1 diabetes typically reduces a person’s lifespan by more than ten years.
“In the last century, we’ve made huge strides in treating diabetes, but there’s still a lot of work to be done,” says Dr. Levings. “This test brings us one step closer to improving treatments for type 1 diabetes and ultimately finding a cure.”
This study was supported by the Canucks for Kids Foundation, Genome BC, Genome Quebec, and Stemcell Technologies Inc. The researchers are supported by BC Children’s Hospital Foundation, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the 4 What Matters Foundation and JDRF.
As part of this study, researchers analyzed blood samples from healthy children and children with type 1 diabetes collected with consent by the BC Children’s Hospital BioBank. Development of the BC Children’s Hospital BioBank was made possible by a $2.66-million contribution from Mining for Miracles, the BC mining community’s longstanding fundraising campaign for BC Children’s Hospital.