The main focus of our research is understanding the underlying causes of type 1 diabetes with a view to developing novel therapeutic approaches to treat or prevent disease. We have made important contributions to the understanding of how T cell tolerance is dysregulated in type 1 diabetes and how this interacts with environmental factors that may influence disease progression. Currently our lab focuses on two broad themes:

  1. The role of the gut microbiota as a potential risk factor for disease and how the gut microbiota may be targeted for disease prevention. We have pioneered the use of metaproteomics to understand host-microbiota interactions in type 1 diabetes. We hope to use this approach to uncover novel biomarkers associated with intestinal inflammation in type 1 diabetes and are now using this method to monitor therapeutic response in a gut microbiota targeted clinical trial. We have used network analysis to demonstrate that the gut microbiota present in individuals with recent-onset type 1 diabetes is disturbed does not interact with intestinal proteins associated with the gut mucous barrier in the same way as healthy subjects. We showed that genetic susceptibility to type 1 diabetes is one of the causes of a disturbed gut microbiota in disease via altered intestinal immunity. However, immunotherapy could restore the gut to a normal state and remodel the microbiota. This work is supported by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
  2. The development of antigen-specific immunotherapy approaches using liposomal nanoparticles to develop a vaccine to specifically prevent or treat type 1 diabetes. Liposomes are a safe and tailorable vehicle to deliver immune-modulating drugs and antigen in order to induce tolerance in islet-specific T cells. Our current work is optimising this approach in order to maximise disease protection from our immunotherapy. We have found that this approach is able to induce a regulatory immune response able to suppress islet-specific T cell responses and disease progression. This approach is being translated for human use with the first clinical trial planning in progress. This work is supported by Diabetes Australia, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and the The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust.

Our current research projects are:

  1. Environmental drivers leading to type 1 diabetes – this project investigates how the gut microbiota, gut metaproteome and gut virome interact during early life in those at risk of type 1 diabetes and whether this predicts the development of islet autoimmunity.
  2. Microbiota targeted dietary supplementation to prevent or treat type 1 diabetes. In collaboration with the ‘TOGeTHER’ trial consortium, we are investigating whether a dietary supplement that releases microbial metabolites is a potential therapy for type 1 diabetes.
  3. Development of an antigen-specific immunotherapy for type 1 diabetes. This project aims to optimise a liposome based therapy by understanding the immunological principles governing epitope selection and targeted delivery for tolerance induction.

Student projects

The Hamilton-Williams lab is looking for students interested in studying the gut microbiome in type 1 diabetes. This project will have a strong emphasis on bioinformatics based approaches and network analysis to understand disease predictors.

Our research is proudly supported by Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Diabetes Australia, Children’s Hospital Foundation.

  • Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation Australia (Dr Emma Hamilton-Williams, Prof Maria Craig, A/Prof Lutz Krause, Prof Jennifer Couper). Crosstalk between host and intestinal microorganisms in progression to islet autoimmunity. 2019-2021: US$900,000
  • Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation Australia (Dr Eliana Marino, Dr Emma Hamilton-Williams, Dr Kirstine Bell, Dr Sonia Saad). Specialized dietary intervention in human type 1 diabetes. 2018-2019, $350,000
  • Diabetes Australia Millennium Award (Dr. Emma Hamilton-Williams). Oral liposomes for antigen-specific immunotherapy of type 1 diabetes. 2018-2019, $150,000
  • Mary McConnel Award for Women in Paediatric Research, Children’s Hospital Foundation (Dr Emma Hamilton-Williams). Maintaining immune tolerance to prevent type 1 diabetes. 2018-2019: $50,000
  • Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and The Helmsley Charitable Trust (Prof Ranjeny Thomas, Dr Emma Hamilton-Williams, Dr Mark Harris and Prof Hugh Reid) Preservation of pancreatic beta cells using antigen-specific tolerizing immunotherapy in children with type 1 diabetes. 2017-2020, US$1,276,000
  • Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation Career Development Award (PI Dr Emma Hamilton-Williams). A genetic link between gut microbial flora and T1D susceptibility. 2013-2019, US$750,0000
  • Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (Prof Ranjeny Thomas and Dr Emma Hamilton-Williams). Antigen-specific peptide immunotherapy targeting dendritic cells in type 1 diabetes. 2015-2017, US$500,000
  • Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Microbiome consortium collaborative award (Dr Danny Zipris, Dr Emma Hamilton-Williams). Host-microbial interactions in the gut that precede development of type 1 diabetes. 2014-2016, US$500,000
  • NHMRC Project Grant. Dr. E. Hamilton-Williams (CIA). A Novel Role for the IL-2 Pathway in type-1-diabetes. 2012-2016, $527,200

2019 Sunday Telegraph: ‘Meet the 10 medicine women who will save your life’ and an accompanying video article ‘Women leading the way in medical and science research’. Published 15 September 2019

2018 UQ Faculty of Medicine media article "Major grant awarded to UQDI diabetes researcher"

2018 UQ media release “Gut reaction linked to type 1 diabetes” on article published in Diabetes Care, JDRF-UK article, Diabetes Australia article, JDRF Australia Newsletter and blogpost and 5 other articles.