International initiative to study viruses implicated in type I diabetes launched in London

The new group was instigated by ten international experts who met at the Novartis Foundation in London last month to discuss recent evidence that a common viral infection may be triggering the disease and the possibility of developing a vaccine to protect individuals at risk.

“This area of diabetes research has been neglected for far too long,” says Professor Keith Taylor, of the Centre for Diabetes and Metaboloic Medicine at Barts and The London. “It is essential to follow up today’s very promising lines of research if we hope to cut the increasing burden of this disease in childhood.” These thoughts were echoed by other meeting participants, including Professor Abner Notkins of the National Institutes of Health, Washington, USA.

Type1 diabetes currently affects several million children worldwide and its incidence is rising steadily. The VIDIS Group aims to foster collaboration between research workers and look for common ways forward. “If a virus is involved, then vaccination as a preventive measure is a realistic possibility,” adds Professor Taylor.

The nature of the triggering agent in children with diabetes has long been debated. Studies in the 1960s first suggested that, the start of the disease was often associated with the coxsackie virus, a common childhood infection.

Recent epidemiological studies from Finnish scientists suggest that diabetic children are infected with these viruses long before the disease is diagnosed. And researchers in Scotland, Italy and Finland have detected coxsackie viruses in the pancreas of diabetic children at post mortem, confirming an early report.

It is now over 80 years since insulin was discovered. Although it has made the lives of people with type I diabetes possible, insulin cannot prevent its disabling complications. “We need to know what destroys the insulin-producing cells in the first place. This is why those of us gathered in London felt that our work on viruses should be extended – with urgency,” says Professor Taylor.

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