by Justin Galvin
I’ve recently conducted an interview with my honours supervisor, Dr. Stuart Mannering who is an immunologist. Dr. Mannering is based at St. Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research in Fitzroy, Melbourne and has made some great progress toward understanding the mechanisms behind type 1 diabetes. Stuart’s ultimate goal is a cure for T1D, and with his contributions to the field, anything is possible. Check out the interview below to gain an insight into what we as researchers are actually doing to help improve the lives of all individuals with T1D!
1. Favourite food?
2. Favourite hobby?
Scuba diving, skiing, bush-walking and reading.
3. Favourite quote?
It goes something like “we’re all unique in what we know, but we’re all unified by the vast infinity of our ignorance”. I’m frequently reminded of the “vast infinity of my ignorance”, I think it is from Oscar Wilde.
4. How long have you been working in the field of T1D?
I started working on type 1 diabetes when I joined Prof Len Harrison’s laboratory at WEHI in Jan 2001.
5. What is your area of research and how does your research benefit those currently living with T1D or those at risk?
I’m an immunologist and my primary interest is in the autoimmune process that leads to type 1 diabetes. I’ve always focused on trying to understand the human, rather than the rodent, immune response that causes T1D. Although my work is on humans it is fairly basic, that is it aims to determine ‘how and why’ the autoimmune response that leads to T1D develops. I do this work because I believe there is a large gap in our knowledge in this area and that filling this gap will be essential if we are to develop effective therapies to treat, or prevent, type 1 diabetes.
6. Do you enjoy your career?
Yes, most days.
7. What has been the highlight of your career?
There have been three things of which I’m particularly proud. First, the development of the CFSE-based proliferation assay. This is a little technical, but it is a new way of measuring immune responses when the immune response is very weak, or the cells that respond are very scarce. This is the case for immune responses that cause type 1 diabetes.
Second, I was primarily responsible for defining the first epitope formed by posttranslational modification to be implicated in type 1 diabetes [Ed: An epitope is a particular site on a molecule which the immune cells recognise and carry out an immune response. Sometimes, after proteins have been made in our body, they may be modified in some way. It is speculated by some scientists that immune cells may recognise these modified proteins to initiate T1D, not the protein’s natural state, as is the case in coeliac disease and rheumatoid arthritis. Therefore, Stuart defined an epitope which has been modified and is implicated in playing a role in causing T1D]. This work was published in 2005 and it took almost 10 years before a second epitope formed by posttranslational modification was identified.
Third, most recently we have succeeded in isolating and analysing human T cells from the islets of deceased organ donors who suffered from type 1 diabetes. Remarkably many of these cells had all the properties that are anticipated for human immune cells that cause type 1 diabetes. We were the first group in the world to do this and have stimulated a lot of interest in this area. I believe that by going to the ‘scene of the crime’ we will uncover exactly how the immune response causes type 1 diabetes and use this information to develop better tests to determine if a person is developing type 1 diabetes and antigen specific therapies to prevent, and perhaps eventually, to cure T1D.
8. Do you think there are any misunderstandings attached to this medical condition by the public?
The name ‘type 1 diabetes’ is unfortunate because it creates a lot of confusion between type 1 and the more common type 2 diabetes. While both diseases result in dysregulation of glucose homeostasis the causes are largely distinct. There is no simple solution. Educating the public is the only way, but this is a long-term goal.
9. What are some interesting research/findings/technological advancements which you have recently found out in the area of T1D?
One recent initiative that relates to my work is the nPOD initiative that aims to collect pancreas samples from people who suffered from type 1 diabetes and make them available to qualified researchers working in the field. This is a dramatic swing away from mouse and rat based studies to focusing on how the disease manifests and develops in humans.
10. What are your short and long term goals in research with T1D?
My current short-term goals are to identify the antigens recognized by the human islet infiltrating T cells we have isolated from the residual pancreatic islets of organ donors who had T1D. My longer term goals are to use this information to develop an antigen specific therapy that will ‘turn off’ the immune cells that attack the insulin-secreting beta cells and thereby prevent, or treat, type 1 diabetes.
11. What has been the biggest obstacle in finding a cure for T1D? Do you think there will ever be a cure? Make a guess on the amount of time before we see a cure.
The biggest obstacle is funding. The second biggest obstacle is obtaining blood and other samples from people with and without T1D. Development of therapies that benefit people with T1D and their families, requires research using samples from people with T1D and for comparison people without T1D.
I’m sure there will be a cure one day. I don’t know how long it will be, but my group and I, as well as thousands of other scientists around the world, are working very hard towards achieving this goal.