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Can a gut virus trigger type 1 diabetes in children?

A new study published in Scientific Reports highlights the role of gut viruses in stimulating type 1 diabetes in children.


Type 1 diabetes in children is a cause of growing concern. Nearly 40,000 cases of type 1 diabetes are diagnosed each year in the United States. Several environmental factors are associated with type 1 diabetes.

Researchers at the Center for Infection and Immunity (CII) at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health and the University of New South Wales, Australia, came up with a new study to emphasize the role of enterovirus in the gut of children. The study was published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Enterovirus stimulates self-destruction of pancreas cells

The enterovirus stimulates the self-destruction of islet cells of the pancreas. Islet cells of the pancreas produce insulin, a hormone responsible for maintaining blood glucose levels. A lack of insulin can lead to diabetes.

Enteroviruses are transmitted feco-orally and reside in the gut. From the gut, they can spread to the pancreas and damage it. The study used a sensitive viral detection method to examine blood and feces of 93 children who had at least one first-degree relative with type 1 diabetes. Out of them, 45 cases had auto-antibodies to islet cells of the pancreas. These cases were compared with the control group having no auto-antibodies.

Auto-antibodies cause self-destruction of the cells. 62% of the children were positive for virus and 129 viruses were detected. Higher amounts of enterovirus type A were found in fecal samples. In the blood, viruses survived for a short period, hence blood levels did not demonstrate significant association. Enteroviruses can also cause diseases like hand, foot and mouth disease, encephalitis in infants.

A future prospect for vaccines to prevent type 1 diabetes

This study emphasized the role of enterovirus in type 1 diabetes in children. The researchers could identify more than a hundred viruses in the gut of children. Identifying the diabetogenic virus could help develop a vaccine that would prevent diabetes. However, the study included fewer cases. A larger study sample is required to substantiate the findings further.

Thomas Briese, one of the researchers, stated in a press release, “These findings strengthen the model that enteroviruses can spread from the gut into a child’s pancreas and trigger autoimmunity in the cells that regulate blood sugar. Knowing the virus types involved is a critical step toward developing new strategies for prevention and treatment of type 1 diabetes.”

Written by Dr. Radhika Baitari, MS


  1. Viruses that linger in the gut could trigger type 1 diabetes [Internet]. EurekAlert!. 2019 [cited 27 March 2019]. Available from:
  2. Kim K, Horton J, Pang C, Jain K, Leung P, Isaacs S et al. Higher abundance of enterovirus A species in the gut of children with islet autoimmunity. 2019.


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