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Virus linked to childhood type 1 diabetes

A specific virus has once again been linked to the development of type 1 diabetes, researchers have said.

An American team say they have found a completely new way to connect the enterovirus Coxsackievirus to the autoimmune condition, usually diagnosed in childhood.

Lead author Dr Kendra Vehik, an epidemiologist and professor from the University of South Florida Health (USF), said: “Years of research have shown that type 1 diabetes is complex and heterogeneous, meaning that more than one pathway can lead to its onset.

“Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in children, teens and young adults, but the autoimmunity that precedes it often begins very early in life.”

The trial involved analysing thousands of stool samples from children who had been recruited as part of the Environmental Determinants of Diabetes in the Young (TEDDY) study.

The findings showed that a prolonged infection of more than 30 days, rather than a short infection, was associated with autoimmunity, which can lead to type 1 diabetes.

Dr Vehik said this was an “important” discovery because “enteroviruses are a very common type of virus” which often leads to a high temperature, a sore throat, rash or even nausea in children.

The researcher added: “A lot of children get them, but not everybody that gets the virus will get type 1 diabetes. Only a small subset of children who get enterovirus will go on to develop beta cell autoimmunity. Those whose infection lasts a month or longer will be at higher risk.”

Further analysis showed that young people who have a particular genetic variant in this virus receptor have a higher risk of developing beta cell autoimmunity.

Dr Vehik said: “This is the first time it has been shown that a variant in this virus receptor is tied to an increased risk for beta cell autoimmunity.”

Co-author Richard Lloyd, professor of molecular virology and microbiology at Baylor College of Medicine, added: “Type 1 diabetes occurs when the immune system destroys its insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood sugar in the body. Without it, the body cannot keep normal blood sugar levels causing serious medical complications.

“Taking it all together, our study provides a new understanding of the roles different viruses can play in the development of beta cell autoimmunity linked to type 1 diabetes and suggests new avenues for intervention that could potentially prevent type 1 diabetes in some children.”

The findings have been published in the Nature Medicine journal.

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