According to new research from Cardiff University in Wales, bacteria may play a role in the development of Type 1 diabetes, which affects up to 3 million Americans (approximately 0.9% of the population) and 400,000 people in the United Kingdom (roughly 0.6% of the population).
Rates of Type 1 diabetes — an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system destroys the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas — have been increasing worldwide, but the exact causes of the condition are unclear. It is thought that killer T cells, white blood cells that typically protect against germs, are responsible for attacking the beta cells, leading to the development of Type 1.
In previous studies, the Cardiff research team found that in people with Type 1 diabetes, these killer cells are highly sensitive and can react to a variety of triggers. In this study, using extremely powerful x-rays, they were were able to identify part of a germ that activates the killer T cells, causing them to latch onto and destroy the beta cells.
“We still have much to learn about the definitive cause of Type 1 diabetes and we know that there are other genetic and environmental factors at play,” notes study author David K. Cole, PhD. “This research is significant as it pinpoints, for the first time, an external factor that can trigger T-cells that have the capacity to destroy beta cells.”
According to Matthias von Herrath, MD, “This new finding, demonstrating how external factors may trigger T-cells to ‘wake up” and start attacking beta cells, helps to explain how this disease develops and could shape the future direction of new treatments and diagnostics.”
The finding may also help determine what causes other autoimmune conditions, the researchers note.
For more information, read the article “Do Germs Trigger Type 1 Diabetes?” or see the study in The Journal of Clinical Investigation. And to learn more about living well with the condition, read “Living Longer With Diabetes: Type 1,” by nurse David Spero.
Researchers are seeking participants with Type 2 diabetes who are taking metformin to enroll in a new study. Bookmark DiabetesSelfManagement.com and tune in tomorrow to learn more.