Findings from new research presented at this year’s European Association for the Study of Diabetes annual meeting in Stockholm have hinted at a link between infection with enteroviruses and the development of type 1 diabetes (T1D), making scientists believe that a virus may cause diabetes. Enteroviruses include those that cause the common cold, polio, and encephalitis. T1D is the most common type of diabetes, especially in children, and it affects the insulin-producing cells within the pancreas, limiting their ability to regulate blood sugar levels.
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The study was presented by a team led by Australian researcher Sonia Isaacs, Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, School of Clinical Medicine, University of New South Wales. It found that T1D patients were eight times more likely to have an enterovirus infection than those without the disease. The team studied 12,077 study participants of whom 5,981 had T1D or islet autoimmunity, a condition that eventually turns into T1D, while other study participants had neither condition.
The results revealed that within the first month of diagnosis with T1D, patients were 16 times more likely to have had an enterovirus infection, and participants with T1D who had a genetic risk and a close relative with T1D were 29 times more likely to have an enterovirus infection. Of the more than 80 enteroviruses, the closest associations were with the six different Coxsackie B viruses.
Globally, approximately 537 million adults (20-79 years) are living with diabetes, and that number is expected to rise to 643 million by 2030 and 783 million by 2045. T1D is a major cause of blindness, kidney failure, heart attack, stroke, and lower limb amputation. It is estimated that diabetes caused 6.7 million deaths worldwide in 2021 alone.
Scientists in Europe have developed a vaccine that targets all six Coxsackie B enteroviruses, raising the possibility of eliminating Type 1 diabetes entirely. In her observations, Sonia Isaacs reported that the “findings provide further support for ongoing work to develop vaccines to prevent the development of islet autoimmunity and therefore reduce the incidence of T1D.”
The researchers have said that although evidence supports the development of antiviral vaccines for T1D prevention, “unanswered questions remain regarding which [enterovirus] genotypes to target and whether other important viruses have been missed due to the substantial investigation bias towards EVs (enteroviruses) in previous studies using targeted virus detection methods”.
Preventing enterovirus infections with a vaccine or treating those infected with antivirals could lead to a sizable reduction in new Type 1 diabetes cases. Currently, various clinical trials of the Coxsackie B vaccine are underway.