Study offers hope of vaccination against diabetes

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Childhood diabetes might be triggered by a virus, offering hope that the disease could one day be prevented by vaccination, a study suggests.

Childhood diabetes might be triggered by a virus, offering hope that the disease could one day be prevented by vaccination, a study suggests.

British scientists have found that a virus known as coxsackie B4 appears to be implicated in causing pancreatic cells to self-destruct, resulting in type 1 diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disease that deprives the body of insulin, the essential hormone that controls blood-sugar levels, usually begins in childhood, and affects as many as one person in 200. If unmanaged, it can lead to blindness, kidney failure and heart disease. Why the disease occurs has been a mystery.

The study found marked differences between the way the bodies of healthy individuals respond to the virus compared with children with diabetes, whose immune systems have destroyed the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas.

Medical scientists suggested that infection with coxsackie B4 helped to trigger this autoimmunity, leading to a lack of insulin and an inability to control sugar levels in the blood.

Mark Peakman, who led the three-year study at Guy's, King's and St Thomas' School of Medicine in London, said confirmation that the virus was behind the rise in diabetes among children would enable a prevention strategy to be developed. "The implications are clear: if viruses have a proven role in the disease, there is the future possibility of developing vaccines to prevent infection and therefore type 1 diabetes."

The study, funded by the charity Action Research, used a virus isolated from a child dying from diabetes to test blood samples from some 40 young diabetics.

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