More than one hundred thousand Australians have type I diabetes mellitus, a serious and life-threatening illness for which there is no cure. The incidence of type 1 diabetes is highest in children and adolescents being one of most common chronic diseases in children. Australia is in the top-ten countries worldwide for incidence of type 1 diabetes in children under 15 and some studies suggest Australia has the 6th highest incidence rate worldwide.
Type I diabetes mellitus is caused when the tissues that control blood sugar levels are destroyed by our own immune system, leading to permanently high sugar levels in the blood. Over time the effects of having high blood sugar results in serious illness including heart attack, stroke, blindness and kidney disease.
Our team is probing the molecular causes of this disease with the aim of using this knowledge to create new therapeutics for the treatment of type I diabetes mellitus. We are using state of the art gene analysis technologies, molecular biology techniques as well as experimental models of diabetes to aid us in our search for a ‘cure’. Indeed with this aim in mind; in one aspect of our work we have discovered novel genes that control how insulin-producing cells die when they are attacked by the immune system.
We are also very interested in knowing more about the genes that contribute to type 1 diabetes at the functional level. For this study we are analysing the genes of people who have type 1 diabetes and also a diabetic complication including hypoglycaemia unawareness.
One outcome of our work is the development of a ‘death-defying’ insulin producing cell, which would be impervious to immune system attack and allow restoration of normal blood sugar levels. Currently our tests show these ‘death-defying’ cells can restore normal blood sugar control in pre-clinical models. Our aim is to now take these findings further towards human trials.
There are many people with type 1 diabetes and some will also develop complications. Unfortunately we still do not have a good cure for type 1 diabetes, and we do not have a clear understanding of why some people get hypoglycaemia unawareness or kidney disease. Ultimately, our goal is to overcome these obstacles and make a significant contribution to human health.