Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease arising from the destruction of pancreatic insulin-producing beta cells. The disease represents a continuum, progressing sequentially at variable rates through identifiable stages prior to the onset of symptoms, through diagnosis and into the critical periods that follow, culminating in a variable depth of beta cell depletion. The ability to identify the very earliest of these presymptomatic stages has provided a setting in which prevention strategies can be trialled, as well as furnishing an unprecedented opportunity to study disease evolution, including intrinsic and extrinsic initiators and drivers. This niche opportunity is occupied by Type 1 Diabetes TrialNet, an international consortium of clinical trial centres that leads the field in intervention and prevention studies, accompanied by deep longitudinal bio-sampling. In this review, we focus on discoveries arising from this unique bioresource, comprising more than 70,000 samples, and outline the processes and science that have led to new biomarkers and mechanistic insights, as well as identifying new challenges and opportunities. We conclude that via integration of clinical trials and mechanistic studies, drawing in clinicians and scientists and developing partnership with industry, TrialNet embodies an enviable and unique working model for understanding a disease that to date has no cure and for designing new therapeutic approaches.
Keywords: Autoimmunity; Mechanistic studies; Review; Type 1 diabetes.