There is no clear, concise explanation for why some people develop type 1 diabetes (T1D) and others do not, or what puts some people at greater risk for the disease. The origins and triggering factors for T1D are something that scientists have been studying for decades. A recent study looks at the possible relationship between genetic risk variants and viral infections and their impact on T1D development.
In some individuals, enteroviruses may trigger or accelerate disease development. However, in others, these same viruses may stimulate a variety of protective factors. Both genetic and environmental factors come into play, and researchers are exploring how to use these findings to improve treatment and prevention of T1D.
Scientists know that the destruction of insulin-producing beta cells plays a role in disease development. Some individuals present with autoantibodies long before T1D develops, and there are still beta cells present in many people even after living with the disease for many years. Yet they are still unsure about exactly what triggers beta cell destruction.
Studies have shown that around 50 percent of T1D risk is heritable. But just because a person carries this risk, does not necessarily mean they will develop the disease. There are around 60 different loci for single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNP) that are associated with T1D and may contribute to risk.
Researchers believe that enteroviruses may also play a role. Many links have been found between enterovirus infections and the presence of various autoantibodies. These infections may trigger beta cell autoimmunity in individuals who already have factors that put them at greater risk of developing T1D. By more effectively identifying individuals who have multiple risk factors, scientists may be able to create targeted antiviral treatments or preventive virus vaccines.
There is still a great deal of research to be done regarding the development of and triggers for T1D. Genetics, environment, and infection may all play a role, but their impact differs from person to person. There is also limited insight into factors such as ethnicity and gender, especially when looking at enteroviral etiology.
Though not involved with this study, the Diabetes Research Connection (DRC) contributes to current bodies of research through providing critical funding for early career scientists pursuing projects related to the diagnosis, prevention, treatment, and eventual cure for T1D. Scientists are learning more about the disease every day. Support these efforts by visiting http://diabetesresearchconnection.org.