The possibility of a vaccine that can prevent the onset of type 1 diabetes has been boosted by new research into the development of the lifelong disease.
Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body’s insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas are destroyed by the immune system. What causes this extreme autoimmune reaction is still not clear, but some scientists believe that enteroviruses, one of the most common infective agents in humans, play a part.
One particular enterovirus population known as group B coxsackieviruses has now been indicated as the chief culprit, with data from two independent studies showing a clear association between type 1 diabetes and the specific virus family, which is known to damage pancreatic beta cells.
One of the studies, the Finnish Type 1 Diabetes Prediction and Prevention (DIPP) study, followed children at genetic risk for type 1 diabetes from birth to 15 years of age, while the other, VirDiab, included children with newly diagnosed diabetes from five European countries.
After analysing data from both, researchers led by Professor Heikki Hyoty, from the University of Tampere in Finland, found a link between the development of type 1 diabetes and the presence of group B coxsackieviruses. However, a similar association was not seen with 35 other types of enterovirus.
Commenting on the findings, Karen Addingto, chief executive of the type 1 diabetes charity JDRF, which funded the research, said: “Here we have two major studies, independently done, both indicating that particular viruses could have some role in triggering Type 1 diabetes in children with a high genetic risk of the condition.
“The next step is that causatio, rather than correlation, needs to be established behind the fact that these children with Type 1 diabetes also had these viruses.
“This could take considerable time. But if achieved, it may be that with screening and a vaccine for the viruses, we can prevent a proportion of Type 1 diabetes incidences.”
The findings are published in the journal Diabetes.

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