Virus is behind Type 1 Diabetes

virus

Scientists believed that they have found the trigger for diabetes.  It can’t be seen by the naked eyes as it is a virus. It contains contain proteins that mimic insulin, a surprise discovery suggests. Researchers at Harvard University found that four kinds of viruses produce proteins that mimic insulin, which could lead to diabetes in humans exposed to the microorganisms.

Viruses are tiny organisms that may lead to mild to severe illnesses in humans, animals and plants. This may include flu or a cold to something more life threatening like HIV/AIDS.

The research only concerns animals so there is no telling if such virus could really posed a threat to humans. But, it do raised the possibility that viruses and other microbes could cause diabetes and even other diseases, the researchers say.

In type 1 diabetes, which is an autoimmune disease, the body misidentifies its own healthy insulin cells as invaders, and attacks them.

About 30 percent of autoimmune disease are thought to be genetic, while the other 70 percent are believed to be instigated by environmental factors, including toxins, diet and infections.

Type 1 diabetes was once called ‘juvenile diabetes,’ because its effects often set in during the early stages of life and carry on throughout adulthood.

We know that in this type of the disease, the body destroys the islet cells in the pancreas that produce insulin, a key hormone to the breakdown and use of blood sugar, or glucose for energy.

But we don’t know why the immune system turns against these particular kinds of cells.

Previous research has led scientists – including lead study author Dr Emrah Altinidis, a postdoctoral fellow at the Joslin Diabetes Center at Harvard – to hypothesize that the disease could have underlying genetic and viral causes.

‘People have had interest in the potential of environmental triggers of diabetes for many years and even some interest in the possibility that viruses could trigger the disease,’ says senior study author and chief Academic Officer of the Joslin Center, Dr C Ronald Kahn.

‘Up until now, most of that had been focused on that the way they might be causing diabetes might be by causing infection or inflammation in the pancreas,’ he says.

The most popular theories have suggested that viruses, including coxsackievirus B4, mumps and rubella, could act as triggers for type 1 diabetes, but still the question of ‘how’ has remained largely a mystery.

Bacteria and viruses produce proteins, just as our cells do, and Dr Altinidis wondered if some of these proteins might mimic insulin, driving the autoimmune response behind the disease.

To find out whether or not his theory had any merit, Dr Altinidis, with senior study Dr Kahn, had to mine a public database of the DNA sequences of viruses, looking for any section of the genetic code that held instructions similar to those for insulin.

Scientists believe that there are over 300,000 viruses that could affect mammals. Only about 7,500 of those have been sequenced.

Scientist concluded that these viruses primarily infect fishes.  This means that it could infect us once we eat the fish that have the virus.

‘People have had interest in the potential of environmental triggers of diabetes for many years and even some interest in the possibility that viruses could trigger the disease,’ says senior study author and chief Academic Officer of the Joslin Center, Dr C Ronald Kahn.

‘Up until now, most of that had been focused on that the way they might be causing diabetes might be by causing infection or inflammation in the pancreas,’ he says.

The most popular theories have suggested that viruses, including coxsackievirus B4, mumps and rubella, could act as triggers for type 1 diabetes, but still the question of ‘how’ has remained largely a mystery.

Bacteria and viruses produce proteins, just as our cells do, and Dr Altinidis wondered if some of these proteins might mimic insulin, driving the autoimmune response behind the disease.

To find out whether or not his theory had any merit, Dr Altinidis, with senior study Dr Kahn, had to mine a public database of the DNA sequences of viruses, looking for any section of the genetic code that held instructions similar to those for insulin.

Scientists believe that there are over 300,000 viruses that could affect mammals. Only about 7,500 of those have been sequenced.

Based on the researched done by both doctors on mouse, they found that the virus proteins caught the attention of some of the same receptors that insulin does, telling them to take up glucose, or blood sugar.

Mice that were injected with the insulin-like viral proteins also had lower blood glucose levels, suggesting that the body had been tricked into thinking there was more insulin present than there actually was.

This could indicate the development of type 2 diabetes as well. The form of the disease that develops later in life involves insulin resistance, meaning that the body produces insulin, but tissues don’t respond to it properly, which is a metabolic issue.

Viruses could cause this phenomenon in one of two ways: ‘It could cause abnormalities in metabolism itself because they have insulin-like effects, but they are weak, and not fully active,’ offers Dr Kahn.

Sources: Daily Mail, News Medical