Research linking a common gastric virus with diabetes has raised hopes of developing a vaccine for the disease.
Enterovirus infection was identified by two separate teams of British researchers as triggering an immune reaction, leading to insulin-dependent diabetes.
The virus family can cause vomiting and diarrhoea but often produces no symptoms. It is thought that by attacking insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas, the viruses set off an immune response which spins out of control, leading to type 1 diabetes.
Researchers say more work is needed, but they suggest that developing a vaccine against the viruses could potentially prevent this happening.
Type 1 diabetes occurs when pancreatic beta cells are destroyed by the body’s immune system. It affects around 300,000 people in the UK, including 20,000 children under the age of 15.
Insulin injections are used to regulate blood sugar in patients who have lost their beta cells.
A study involving the pancreases of 72 young people who died less than a year after being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes found that in 60% of cases the organs contained evidence of beta cell infection by enteroviruses.
At the same time, the organs of 50 deceased children who had not suffered from diabetes showed virtually no sign of viral infection.
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