Hope for diabetes sufferers as link to childhood infections revealed

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Research linking diabetes to infection has been described as the latest piece in the puzzle for scientists hoping to develop a cure for the disease.

The study, the largest carried out on the topic to date, showed a strong connection between the development of type 1 diabetes in children and viral infections, specifically in the case of enteroviruses.

The results support existing evidence that infection with enteroviruses, one of the most common infective agents in humans, can lead to the process whereby diabetes occurs.

Scientists examined stool samples from 129 children, diagnosing 108 infections, for the study, published in the Diabetologia journal.

Authors Professor Heikki Hyoty and Dr Hanna Honkanen of the University of Tampere, Finland, said: "The present study suggests that enterovirus infections in young children are associated with the appearance of islet autoantibodies with a time lag of about one year.

"This finding supports previous observations from other prospective studies suggesting that enterovirus infections may play a role in the initiation of the beta cell-damaging process."

The findings provide further hope of a cure, charity JDRF said, describing how a child diagnosed with type 1 diabetes aged five faces up to 19,000 injections and 50,000 finger prick blood tests by the time they reach 18.

Jessica Dunne, director of Discovery Research at the organisation, said: "JDRF is excited to see these latest results, which are an important piece of the puzzle for developing a vaccine for type 1 diabetes.

"We believe that in the long-term, approaches like a viral vaccine will be important in their ability to prevent type 1 diabetes autoimmunity in a significant part of the population."

The next step is to look at whether the same findings are true of older diabetes sufferers, the charity added.