Type 1 diabetes 'could be caused by germs'

Researchers believe the discovery could be 'really helpful' in curing a condition that affects 350,000 in the UK

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The Independent Online

Some germs may be responsible for people getting type 1 diabetes, according to a groundbreaking scientific study.

Researchers from Cardiff University’s Institute of Infection & Immunity discovered that certain germs trigger killer T-cells, a form of white blood cell that can cause diabetes.

The killer T-cells destroy insulin-producing ‘beta cells’, leading to an insulin deficiency.

Dr David Cole, a senior research fellow in charge of the study, told The Independent: “These findings could be really helpful for us going forward, now that we are getting a better idea of the environmental risk factors that cause diabetes.

“The behaviour of the T-cells is really like a case of friendly fire, or mistaken identity as they are provoked into attacking the beta cells.

“It could potentially open the door for people to be screened for certain bacteria, lowering the risk of them developing type 1 diabetes through non-genetic causes.”

The team at Cardiff created this cartoon to help the public visualise their findings (Cardiff University)

During their experiments the Cardiff team shone powerful X-rays into infected blood samples, revealing the bacteria which may cause the condition.

Researchers had previously isolated a killer T-cell from a patient with type 1 diabetes to view the interaction, which kills the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas.

The Cardiff studies reveal that killer T-cells are highly cross-reactive, and respond to a variety of different pathogen triggers.

Dr Cole continued: “Uncovering the mechanism by which white blood cells detect bacteria is key to us working towards a cure, and these results have been promising.”

The research was published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation and was co-funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). 

At the start of May scientists from Cardiff’s School of Engineering announced they had created a portable blood glucose monitor which does not pierce the skin.

The new devices can be discreetly attached to the patient’s skin and measure glucose levels using microwaves.

Last March several UK universities announced they are to carry out a series of trials to find a vaccine to type 1 diabetes as part of a £4.4million project.

In January US scientists stated they had halted the condition in mice for a six month period, raising hopes of a cure in humans.