Targeting the Gut to Prevent Type 1 Diabetes

The term “microbiota” has been turning up a lot in science news these days. In humans, “microbiota” refers to the vast population of microorganisms that live in the human gastrointestinal tract, or gut, and researchers have been paying special attention to them because we now know they play a vital role in human health.

Recently, researchers in Australia published a study suggesting that targeting specific organisms in the gut might prove to be a way of preventing Type 1 diabetes. According to study co-author Emma Hamilton-Williams, PhD, of the University of Queensland, “Therapies targeting the microbiota could…have the potential to help prevent Type 1 diabetes in the future.”

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It’s been established that people who have certain genetic variants are at greater risk of Type 1 diabetes, and research also has indicated that changes in gut microbiota play some role in the development of the disease. So the Australian researchers decided to study whether the genetic predisposition to Type 1 diabetes is linked to changes in gut microbiota. They analyzed mice that were genetically prone to Type 1 diabetes and found that their gut microbiota were different from mice that didn’t have the predisposition — the predisposed mice showed reductions in certain specific bacteria. Further, these reductions were linked to the working of the immune system. Finally, the researchers discovered that treating the mice with immunotherapy caused significant changes to their gut microbiota. The researchers then replicated their findings in a study of humans who also had a genetic predisposition to Type 1 diabetes.

The next step for the scientists will be to conduct clinical trials of immunotherapy on people with Type 1 diabetes to see whether the therapy can change the gut microbiota. If that happens, the researchers say that some day it might be possible to protect people from Type 1 diabetes by reestablishing protective microorganisms in the gut.

Want to learn more about recent Type 1 diabetes research? Read “Reversing Type 1 Diabetes: New Research From Boston Children’s Hospital,” “Can a Very Low-Carb-Diet Help People With Type 1 Diabetes?” and “Vaccine Leads to Lasting Improvement in Type 1 Diabetes.”

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