Diabetes General

Viruses could be key to developing childhood vaccine for type 1 diabetes

by Barbara Hewitt on January 12, 2017

Scientists have found a connection between the development of type 1 diabetes and viral infections which affect millions of people worldwide each year.

The research from the University of Tampere in Finland adds to existing evidence that infection with enteroviruses can lead to the process that results in type 1 diabetes and it could help with the development for a vaccine to prevent the condition.

011217-microbiologistThe team found that children with type 1 diabetes have a higher incidence of enterovirus infections prior to developing the autoimmune processes which lead to their diabetes.

The study report explains that type 1 diabetes is caused by an immune mediated process that damages insulin producing beta cells in the pancreas. The subclinical phase of the disease can be identified by detecting autoantibodies.

Enteroviruses have been linked to type 1 diabetes in studies showing an increased frequency of these viruses in the blood and pancreas of diabetic and autoantibody-positive individuals and in studies showing an increased frequency of enterovirus antibodies in people with type 1 diabetes but this association has not been seen in all studies.

In this new study, the authors analysed whether the presence of enteroviruses in stools was associated with the appearance of islet autoimmunity in the type 1 diabetes prediction and prevention study in Finland, the largest study to date in which enteroviruses have been analysed in stool samples collected over time from children who developed signs of a beta cell-damaging process.

A total of 1,673 samples from 129 children who turned positive for multiple islet autoantibodies and 3,108 from 282 matched control children were screened for the presence of enterovirus ribonucleic acid, the genetic material found in viruses.

Some 108 infections were diagnosed in the 129 case children and 169 infections in the 282 control children during the whole follow-up and this difference was also seen in infections that occurred prior to the appearance of autoantibodies.

Further analyses showed that the excess of infections in case children occurred more than 12 months before the first autoantibody positive sample was taken. Children with type 1 diabetes were found to have had three times more enterovirus infections than control children.

‘The present study suggests that enterovirus infections in young children are associated with the appearance of islet autoantibodies with a time lag of about one year. This finding supports previous observations from other prospective studies suggesting that enterovirus infections may play a role in the initiation of the beta cell-damaging process,’ the study report says.

There are currently other large international studies in progress to study this association in different countries and to understand the mechanisms that make it possible for these viruses to infect insulin producing cells in the pancreas.

The Finnish research team added that it will also be important to explore the possibility of creating a vaccine against these viruses to find out whether it could prevent type 1 diabetes.

The study results are exciting, according to Jessica Dunne, director of discovery research at diabetes charity JDRF which funds work into finding a cure for the disease. ‘These latest results are an important piece of the puzzle for developing a vaccine for type 1 diabetes. We believe that in the long term, approaches like a viral vaccine will be important in their ability to prevent type 1 diabetes autoimmunity in a significant part of the population,’ she added.

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