Professor Mikael Knip put forward the suggestion that type 1 diabetes is caused by a combination of both environmental and genetic factors, at the Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD) Annual Meeting.
Genetics plays a part in determining who is at risk of developing type 1 diabetes. However, only 10% of people who are genetically at risk actually go on to develop it. Knip’s research suggests that there must be environmental factors at play which cause those 10% to become diabetic .
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease, which means that the body’s own insulin -producing cells, in this case the islet cells, are attacked by the molecules (autoantibodies) released by the body’s own immune system.
Prof Knip believes that this may be caused by a seasonal viral infection (viruses in the enterovirus group) followed by exposure to molecules (antigens) such as bovine insulin in cow’s milk.
The theory that diabetes is triggered by an enterovirus is backed up by research done by the University of Colorado. Their Diabetes and Autoimmunity Study in the Young (DAISY) also proposes that the progression of type 1 diabetes may follow an enterovirus infection, as a result of viral RNA (a similar molecule to DNA) in the blood.