Bacteria May Trigger The Development of Type 1 Diabetes

Intriguing findings of a study suggest that bacteria could play a role in the development of type 1 diabetes by triggering the body’s immune system to destroy the cells that produce insulin.

Previous research has shown that type 1 diabetes develops when killer T-cells, a type of white blood cell that normally protects us from bacteria, destroy beta cells that produce insulin. It is unclear what exactly triggers these T-cells to destroy beta cells.

Utilizing Diamond Light Source, the UK’s synchrotron science facility to shine intense super powerful X-rays into samples, investigators found the same killer T-cells that cause type 1 diabetes are strongly activated by some bacteria. The study was published in Journal of clinical Investigation.

Professor Andy Sewell, lead author of the study, said: “Killer T-cells are extremely effective at killing off germs, but when they mistakenly attack our own tissues, the effects can be devastating.”

“During type 1 diabetes, killer T-cells are thought to attack pancreatic beta cells. These cells make the insulin that is essential for control of blood sugar levels.

“When beta cells are destroyed, patients have to inject insulin every day to remain healthy.”

Cardiff University’s Dr David Cole said: “Killer T-cells sense their environment using cell surface receptors that act like highly sensitive fingertips, scanning for germs.

“However, sometimes these sensors recognise the wrong target, and the killer T-cells attack our own tissue. We, and others, have shown this is what happens during type 1 diabetes when killer T-cells target and destroy beta cells.

“In this new study, we wanted to find out what was causing these T-cells to kill beta cells. We identified part of a bug that turns on killer T-cells so they latch onto beta cells. This finding sheds new light on how these killer T-cells are turned into rogues, leading to the development of type 1 diabetes.”

Dr Cole added: “We still have much to learn about the definitive cause of type 1 diabetes and we know that there are other genetic and environmental factors at play.

“This research is significant as it pinpoints, for the first time, an external factor that can trigger T-cells that have the capacity to destroy beta cells.”

Let’s hope that this research will one day will lead to new ways to prevent or even halt type 1 diabetes.


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