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New Study Shows that a Virus can Trigger Type 1 Diabetes

Mar 17, 2009

A virus with symptoms like those of the common cold may be a trigger for diabetes, especially in children, according to two UK studies that suggest doctors may one day be able to vaccinate against the disease.

Two studies published last week provide evidence that common viruses may cause childhood diabetes, paving the way for potential vaccines, researchers said.


One team showed that enteroviruses, which cause colds, vomiting or diarrhea, were found frequently in pancreases of young people who had recently died from Type 1 diabetes, but not in healthy samples.

This suggests a virus could trigger the disease in children genetically predisposed to the condition, said Alan Foulis of the Royal Infirmary in Glasgow, who worked on one of the studies.

A pathogen called enterovirus was present in 44 of 72 pancreases tested from young people who died less than a year after being diagnosed with diabetes, researchers from the Peninsula Medical School, the University of Brighton and the Glasgow Royal Infirmary wrote in the medical journal Diabetologia.

The findings confirm a link long suspected between the virus and Type 1 diabetes, estimated to affect about 460,000 children around the world, the researchers wrote.

“This is the first time that scientists have been able to provide such extensive evidence,” Noel Morgan, a professor at Peninsula, said in a statement. A vaccine could also help patients with Type 2 diabetes, which usually starts in adulthood and is linked to obesity, he said.

Doctors must first determine which of the up to 100 different enterovirus strains are associated with diabetes before a vaccine can be developed, the researchers said. When the virus infects cells that produce insulin in the pancreas, the immune system may attack the cells as “foreign,” the scientists said.

People with Type 1 diabetes need daily insulin shots for their bodies to be able to properly control their blood sugar. Insulin is a hormone needed for the body to use sugar for energy.

A separate research team from Cambridge University said Friday on the Science Express website that four rare genetic mutations change the body’s reaction to the enterovirus, leaving patients less likely to develop diabetes.

The Cambridge team collaborated with 454 Life Sciences, a unit of Swiss drugmaker Roche Holding AG. Roche provided technology the team used to examine DNA.

The studies were published in the journals Science and Diabetologia.