People with type I diabetes might be ten times more likely to have enteroviral infections than healthy people, according to a new study published yesterday. The analysis, led by Maria Craig of the University of Sydney, reviewed data from 26 studies involving more than 4,400 people with type 1 diabetes that measured enterovirus levels in the blood, gut or pancreas.
Enteroviruses, which cause a wide range of sickness, including the common cold and flu, come into the body through the gastrointestinal tract.
“What we are showing from studies across the world is that enteroviruses are found in children before they get diabetes, so it’s an initial trigger of the disease,” Craig says.
Researchers in the late 1960s first noticed a link between enteroviral infections and type 1 diabetes, which usually strikes children and leads to the loss of insulin-producing cells. Some scientists remain skeptical, in part because not all people with diabetes have a history of enterovirus infections. However, says Didier Hober of the University of Lille in France, this could be because these viruses are only occasionally released from the gut and may at times go undetected.
Craig now hopes researchers consider a new approach to prevent the progression and ultimately the onset of the disease.
“There has been huge efforts targeting the immune system and none of them have worked,” says Craig. “It’s time we look at a different strategy. Rather than targeting the immune system, why don’t we try targeting the virus?”
However, it is easier said than done to create a type I diabetes vaccine. There are hundreds of enteroviruses, and Craig, estimates that a dozen or so of them are implicated in the disease. Still, Hober voices optimism that scientists will be able to narrow in on the possible cause, “it is not hopeless.”
Image of a Coxsackie virus implicated In Diabetes, CDC