Type 1 diabetes usually occurs in children and young adults and results from the body's own immune system destroying the insulin-producing beta cells in the islets of Langerhans within the pancreas. This occurs in those who are genetically susceptible and is thought to be triggered by one or more environmental agents.
Type 1 diabetes progresses over at least 6-9 months before the diagnosis, during which the person has no symptoms and the blood glucose is normal.
There is no known effective strategy to prevent this autoimmune destruction once the process has started. Four known targets within the pancreatic beta cell have been identified that play important roles in the initiation or progression of the autoimmune process and include insulin and the enzyme glutamate decarboxylase (GAD).
Antibodies to islet cells and GAD can be measured in a newly diagnosed person with type 1 diabetes to confirm the diagnosis. This recent study has identified a previously unknown fifth target called tetraspanin-7 which is a transmembrane glycoprotein. It is hoped that by identifying the specific targets within the immune system that a way can be found to block the immune response allowing proliferation of surviving islet cells so preventing the development of type 1 diabetes.