The exact cause of Type 1 childhood diabetes has for many years been unknown, but a new study by researchers at Tel Aviv University suggests that it is triggered before birth. It argues that the disease, which is increasingly common throughout the world and can have debilitating long-term complications, is developed by the transmission of viruses from the mother to the foetus.
The findings were collected in a recent paper by Professor Zvi Laro, and published in Diabetic Medicine. Prof. Laron said, “We knew that type 1 diabetes was associated with other autoimmune diseases like Hashimoto Thyroiditis, celiac disease, and multiple sclerosis, so we investigated the seasonality of birth months for these respective diseases in Israel and other countries. We found that the seasonality of the birth of children who went on to develop these diseases did indeed differ from that of the general public.”
By testing the differences between pregnant women in different seasons, the study revealed that, during the viral epidemics common in winter, one in ten pregnant women without any family history of the autoimmune disease tested positive for antibodies that cause pancreatic damage.
Prof Laron’s research found specific antibodies that affect the insulin producing cells of the pancreas. The finding indicates that viral infections, which affected the mother during pregnancy, could lead to damage to either, or both of, the mother and the developing foetus.
“If our hypothesis can be verified, then preventive vaccine before conception would be useful in stopping the increasing incidence of type 1 diabetes and other autoimmune diseases. There is no cure for this diabetes, so true intervention would be important not only medically but also psychologically and financially, as the costs of the lifelong treatment of this chronic disease and other autoimmune diseases are great.”
Funds are currently being raised to develop the research.

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