Child vaccine may prevent diabetes
A VACCINE to prevent children developing diabetes could be developed, after research linked the condition to a common virus.
Scientists analysed several pancreases from young people who died shortly after being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. They found a family of viruses, known as enteroviruses, were frequently found in the specimens of those who had the disease.
Scientists, now hope to identify the specific strains of virus involved so a vaccine can be developed for children. The disease affects 20,000 youngsters in the UK.
But it could be at least ten years before such a treatment is available because of the complexities of developing vaccines.
Yesterday, two teams of British researchers published studies showing strong evidence that enterovirus infection could trigger the immune reaction which leads to insulin- dependent Type 1 diabetes.
They also suggested viral infection might be involved in Type 2 diabetes, although it is not clear how. This form of the disease – which affects 2.2 million people in the UK – is linked to obesity and generally develops in adults.
Type 1 diabetes is normally diagnosed in children and young people. Having lost the insulin-producing cells in their pancreas known as beta cells, patients must rely on insulin injections to regulate their blood sugar and stay alive.
One team of researchers, writing in the journal Diabetologia, studied a unique collection of pancreases stored in Glasgow from 72 young people across the UK who died less than a year after being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.
In 60 per cent of these cases, the organs contained evidence of beta cell infection by enteroviruses, which can cause symptoms such as a cold, vomiting and diarrhoea.
The pancreases of 50 deceased children who had not suffered from diabetes showed virtually no sign of viral infection.
Previous studies have found a genetic link to Type 1 diabetes, but the evidence suggests non-genetic factors may also prompt development of the disease.
Scientists also found 40 per cent of adults with Type 2 diabetes had enterovirus infection in their beta cells, compared with 13 per cent of people free of the disease. In Type 2 diabetes, beta cells are not destroyed by the immune system but produce less insulin.
Dr Alan Foulis, a pathologist at Glasgow Royal Infirmary, started collecting the specimens 25 years ago to discover the causes of diabetes. But he said it was only recently that better techniques to analyse the specimens had been developed.
The work, funded by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, would not cure the condition, but he hoped to try to prevent the process starting at all. "The idea of a vaccine and being able to prevent this disease would be my life's work in research," he said.
Noel Morgan, from the Peninsula Medical School in the south-west of England, who was also involved in the study,
said the next step was to identify the enteroviruses involved and how beta cells were changed by the infection. This could lead to a vaccine for babies to stop Type 1 diabetes developing.
Another team, from Cambridge University, has established that a gene called IFIH1, which helps the body defend itself against viruses, is linked to Type 1 diabetes.
Dr Iain Frame, of the charity Diabetes UK, said the research was a big step forward, adding:
"The next steps to identify the viruses and find out what they are doing to the infected beta cells will be hugely exciting and will take us a step closer to preventing Type 1 diabetes."
FOR the parents of Daisy Slatter, a vaccine against Type 1 diabetes would have been very welcome.
Daisy was diagnosed with diabetes aged just 13 months after her parents, Tim and Karen, who live in Ayr, became concerned by a severe nappy rash which would not clear up.
After several visits to their doctor, the youngster was confirmed as diabetic – the nappy rash a symptom of the high levels of sugar in her urine.
"It was a real shock," Mr Slatter said. "She then had to spend four days in hospital and after that had to have four injections every day and a strict regime of blood testing every hour to make sure we were keeping her blood sugar levels stable."
But a year later Daisy was fitted with an insulin pump, where an implant under the skin delivers tiny doses of insulin throughout the day to control sugar levels.
Mr Slatter, who works for the family business The Cake Store, welcomed the latest research leading to hopes of a vaccine. "When they make these findings it's all good news," he said.
"The more they identify what's causing the problem, the more chances they have of finding an actual cure."
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