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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Columbia: Viruses That Linger in the Gut Could Trigger Type 1 Diabetes

Researchers at the Center for Infection and Immunity (CII) at the Columbia  University Mailman School of Public Health and the University of New South Wales, Australia, provide new evidence supporting an association between elevated levels of enteroviruses in the intestinal tracts of children and islet autoimmunity, a precursor to Type 1 diabetes. Read the paper Nature Scientific Reports.

Researchers examined blood and feces from 93 children as part of the Australian Viruses In the Genetically at Risk study (VIGR), who had at least one first-degree relative with Type 1 diabetes. The study used Virome-Capture-Sequencing for Vertebrate-infecting viruses (VirCapSeq-VERT), a powerful viral sequencing tool developed at the CII.

A test of fecal samples found 129 viruses that were more abundant in the guts of children with islet autoimmunity versus age and gender-matched controls, including five enterovirus-A viruses which are the source of common infant infections such as hand, foot and mouth disease, but also encephalitis. Researchers say further study is needed to pinpoint the specific virus that can lead to islet autoimmunity and Type 1 diabetes.

Blood samples did not show an association between enteroviruses and islet autoimmunity, a finding the researchers say is in keeping with the fact that the body clears viruses from the bloodstream more quickly than from the gut.

“These findings strengthen the model that enteroviruses can spread from the gut into a child’s pancreas and trigger autoimmunity in the cells that regulate blood sugar,” says Dr. Thomas Briese, associate professor of epidemiology and CII lead on the project. “This is a critical step toward developing new strategies for prevention and treatment of Type 1 diabetes.”

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