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Study into childhood infections prompts hope for diabetes sufferers

11 January 2017 08:16

Type 1 diabetes affects 400,000 people in the UK

Type 1 diabetes affects 400,000 people in the UK

A connection between diabetes and inflection in children could be a major breakthrough in developing a cure for type 1 diabetes, according to new research.

The disease currently has no known cure. But scientists at a university in Finland may have identified an "important piece in the puzzle", drawing a link between the condition and common viruses.

According to diabetes charity JDRF, type 1 diabetes affects 400,000 people in the UK, with over 29,000 of them children.

'Largest study to date'

The research shows a strong link between the development of type 1 diabetes and viral infections, specifically in the case of enteroviruses, which include over 100 individual virus types.

Stool samples from 129 children were examined as part of the study, and 108 different infections were diagnosed by scientists.

According to the author of the report, Professor Heikki Hyöty of the University of Tampere in Finland, these viruses have a "tropism," or attraction, to the same insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.

Dr Hyoty said: "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."

A worsening condition

The number of people suffering with the condition increases by 4% each year. However there has been a 5-fold increase in children under 5 suffering from the condition in the last 20 years, the charity's website reads.

If you have diabetes, you're up to 5 times more likely to develop coronary heart disease or have a stroke, the NHS says.

Having type 1 diabetes involves a daily routine of blood glucose tests and insulin injections. It may also involve a change in diet.

Sufferers of type 1 diabetes will need to arrange specialist medical travel insurance when planning to travel abroad.

Hope for a cure

The outcome of the study provides further hope of a cure, JDRF has said.

While the study specifically identifies the link in children, the next stage in the research is to look at whether the same findings are true of older diabetes sufferers.

Jessica Dunne, director of Discovery Research at the organisation, said: "JDRF is excited to see these latest results, which 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."