Project information

Setting the immune system right in type 1 diabetes

This project is focused on curing type 1 diabetes; so far the closest we can get to this is an islet transplant. However, even when a transplant is successful, the underlying cause of type 1 is still present. To make that cure permanent, we must find a way to reset the immune system.

September 2011 - September 2014

Charity information


JDRF logo
  • Need


    Within the pancreas are clusters of cells called the islets of Langerhans. Islets are made up of several types of cell, including beta cells which make insulin. In type 1 the immune system begins attacking these cells & insulin is no longer made. Islet transplants are seen by some as a cure for type 1. But this cure is not permanent, as the immune system is still programmed to destroy cells. To make transplanted islets survive we must find what lies behind the attack & develop a way to stop it.


    The research team will collect blood samples from people in the UK islet transplant programme both pre & post-transplant. People who receive an islet transplant will be monitored closely to detect signs of islet destruction. The team will then isolate the cells responsible for this destruction and study them in detail. From here, they hope to develop ways to make islet transplants last longer and in the short term perhaps find ways of assessing who is mostly likely to benefit from a transplant.

  • Aims

    Aim 1

    To isolate and analyse the cells responsible for the destruction of insulin producing cells.


    » Collect blood samples from people in the UK islet transplant programme

    Success will be effectively isolating the cells responsible for destroying insulin producing beta cells in order to investigate them in more detail.

    Aim 2

    To investigate whether these cells are susceptible or resistant to immune suppression & regulation.


    » Analyse cells closely to unearth their properties.

    Success will be unearthing new information on these cells and whether they are susceptible or resistant to immune suppression and regulation.

    Aim 3

    Determine if cells that caused destruction to new islets were in the system before transplantation.


    » Study the immune response in islet transplant recipients, monitoring them very closely to detect signs of islet destruction.

    Success will be analysing pre-transplant samples and identifying whether destructive cells were present in the system before transplantation.

    Aim 4

    To find out if these cells share the same characteristics pre & post-transplant.


    » Isolate the cells responsible for destruction and perform detailed characterization including an assessment of their susceptibility

    Success will be finding out if these cells share the same characteristics when they are at rest (pre transplant) as when actively involved in destroying islets (post transplant).

    Aim 5

    Develop new ways of improving the effectiveness of islet transplants


    » Investigate treatments which may help transplants last longer

    Success will be potentially developing new treatments or therapies, or getting closer to this stage, which help islet transplants last longer.

  • Impact


    This study will benefit people with existing type 1 by helping develop new ways of improving effectiveness of islet transplants. It could also benefit people in the process of developing type 1 & those newly diagnosed by revealing ways in which the immune cells at the root of the condition can be regulated. If we can do this we may be able to halt the progression of type 1 & potentially grant the body the breathing space it needs to repair or allow regenerative treatment to work unhindered.


    A risk associated with any medical research project is the loss of key staff. If this occurred there would be a short delay in the running of the project whilst the team recruited new members of staff to the project. The effective running and coordination of transporting samples from multiple transplant centres within the UK is also a vital part of the project. The team is, therefore, employing a Clinical Trials Manager to ensure the shipping, collation and reporting of data runs smoothly.


    Researchers are required to produce annual progress and final research reports to JDRF. The reports are translated by our research communication team who make them accessible to a lay audience. We then share this information on our website and in our supporter magazine Type 1 Discovery.

  • Budget

    Budget - Project Cost: £68,000

    Loading graph....
      Amount Heading Description
      £50,000 Post-Doctoral Fellow salary costs for a Post-Doctoral Fellow who will conduct the laboratory based work of this project.
      £18,000 Clinical Trials Manager salary costs for a Clinical Trials Manager who will coordinate the shipping, collation and reporting

    Current Funding / Pledges

    Source Amount
    An individual major donor £30,000 Guaranteed
  • Background


    This project is taking place at King’s College in London. King's is one of the world's leading research and teaching universities. Dr Tree’s laboratory focuses on human, islet specific immune regulation in order to understand the mechanisms involved in regulating cells that are capable of causing type 1 diabetes.


    400,000 people in the UK have type 1 diabetes, including 29,000 children. The potential to develop successful and long lasting islet transplants from this research would have a life changing impact on those who live with type 1, turning a short term cure into a permanent one.

  • Why Us?

    Why Us?

    JDRF is totally focussed on type 1 diabetes and we are the world’s leading charitable funder of type 1 research. In the past 40 years we have funded £1 billion of the best research to cure, treat and prevent the disease. We work with academia, industry and governments to make sure that this research has the greatest possible impact on the lives of people with type 1 now and in the future.

    Read more about the Charity running this project.


    Dr Timothy Tree

    Dr Tree is Senior Lecturer, in the Department of Immunobiology at King’s College School of Medicine. He has type 1 diabetes and was diagnosed aged 11