Type 1 diabetes study discovers potential targets for treatment

July 23, 2021

Scientists have completed a large and diverse genetic study of type 1 diabetes, identifying new drug targets to treat a condition that affects 1.3 million American adults, according to a news release from UVA Health.

Several potential drugs are already in the pipeline. Drugs targeting 12 genes identified in the diabetes study have been tested or are being tested in clinical trials for autoimmune diseases. That could accelerate the drugs’ repurposing for treating or preventing type 1 diabetes, the researchers say.

Researcher Stephen S. Rich, PhD, of the University of Virginia School of Medicine and its Center for Public Health Genomics, said, “Using these results, we hope that the number of plausible genetic variants will be reduced, their function and gene targets clarified, and existing drugs used in other diseases can be tested for their impact on delaying onset of type 1 diabetes, or improved treatment outcomes.”

Formerly known as juvenile diabetes, type 1 diabetes can affect both children and adults.

The new type 1 diabetes study examined 61,427 participants. Most prior research has focused on type 1 diabetes risk in people of European ancestry, while the new findings provide important insights about the type 1 diabetes “genetic landscape” in people of African, Asian and other backgrounds as well, the researchers report in a new scientific paper.

In total, the scientists identified 78 regions on our chromosomes where genes are located that influence our risk for type 1 diabetes. Of those, 36 regions were previously unknown.

In addition, the researchers identified specific, naturally occurring gene variations that influence risk, and determined how those variations act on particular types of cells. They were then able to use their findings to identify and prioritize potential drug targets.

Among the potential targets are a dozen examined in current or completed clinical trials for autoimmune diseases. For example, the gene IL23A has been successfully targeted in the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease and psoriasis. Targeting this gene may also prove useful in the battle against type 1 diabetes, the researchers believe.

While more study is needed, the scientists’ work has broadened our understanding of type 1 diabetes in different groups and produced many promising leads that could ultimately benefit patients.

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