Trigger warning: Getting the full picture on what causes type 1 diabetes

While there is strong evidence to support the view that some people have a genetic predisposition to type 1 diabetes, scientists still don’t understand what actually triggers the onset of the disease.

That’s why they can’t explain why, in some identical twins, one twin develops type 1 diabetes and the other doesn’t.

One area scientists have been focussing on for the past decade is the idea that the onset of type 1 diabetes could be triggered by a virus.

With the help of a grant from the Diabetes Australia Research Trust, Professor Maria Craig and her team at Sydney University are trying to get the full picture of all the viruses that could be causing type 1 diabetes.

“There has been a lot of research into the possibility that it is a virus that triggers the autoimmune response leading to type 1 diabetes but to date most of it has focussed on a particular type of virus, the enterovirus,” Professor Craig said.

“However, the focus on this particular virus means there hasn’t been enough research into the potential impact of other viruses including rubella, measles and mumps.

“Now it is true that so far enteroviruses have displayed the strongest association with type 1 diabetes, but if we are going to develop a vaccine for type 1 diabetes we need to get the full picture of what triggers the disease.”

Professor Craig said her team would be using cutting edge DNA technology, Next Generation Sequencing, to identify and test for all possible viruses in Australian children with type 1 diabetes.

“We will be looking at all viruses present in the gut of the children participating in our study and the Next Generation Sequencing allows us to screen for all viruses,” she said.

“Previously, we would have had to specifically test for each virus and, if you don’t know what you are looking for, it can be easy to miss some.”

The team are hopeful that their research results, which should be published over the next twelve months, could help inform the next step in a search for a vaccine to help prevent children from developing the condition.