Dr. Mark Atkinson, Ph. D., American Diabetes Association Eminent Scholar
The University of Florida
A simple stool sample test in children as young as four months who are at genetic risk of type 1 diabetes may predict those who will go on to develop the condition. Dr Mark Atkinson, University of Florida, USA, says that the ratio of good to bad bacteria in the stool samples of these children can reveal their potential to develop type 1 diabetes and discusses how in the future a ‘therapeutic’ bacterium could be used to treat these children and prevent the disease
First, Atkinson and co-workers analyzed gut microbes from diabetes-prone and diabetes resistant rats. They found 24 bacterial species and 18 genera were found to differ significantly in abundance between the diabetes-prone and diabetes resistant rats. Hundreds of other types of bacteria that could not be classified also differed between the two samples.
These results encouraged the team to examine the gut bacteria in humans at high genetic risk for type 1 diabetes. The gut microbes of four case-controlled pairs of people were examined as part of the Diabetes Prediction and Prevention (DIPP) programme in Finland, where newborns are screened for their genetic risk of developing type 1 diabetes.
The analysis identified bacteria that correlated with the development of type-1-diabetes-associated autoimmunity in children who are were at elevated risk for the disease. One striking result was the decline in a class (phylum) of bacteria called Firmicutes, whereas there was an increase in the Bacteroidetes class as children became autoimmune. In healthy children, the exact opposite occurred, Firmicutes increased as Bacteroidetes declined.
“These results suggest that future autoimmunity can be predicted as early as four months after birth simply by measuring the ratio of Bacteroidetes to Firmicutes in stool samples,” say Atkinson and co-workers. “In addition, specific bacterial strains could be identified that are either positively or negatively correlated with the development of autoimmunity. Thus while it remains to be proven, we believe that an early diagnostic as well as a therapeutic bacterium may one day be useful in the prevention of type 1 diabetes in high-risk children. This information could also prove useful in defining the role of gut microbes in the development of type 1 diabetes.”