Since the Germ Theory of Disease, it isn’t very interesting to state that viruses cause illness, but it is interesting to claim that viruses may be responsible for causing a non-infectious disease that is usually attributed to a genetic—not a viral—origin. Researchers have been investigating the relationship between Type 1 Diabetes and rotavirus. A recent post on ScienceDaily reported evidence that suggests that a viral infection during gestation may trigger T1DM in the fetus, even if the mother and family have no history of diabetes.
The researchers first noticed an apparent correlation between birth month and illness. More specifically, children born in autumn and winter—seasons that correspond to peak incidences of viral infections—tended to have greater risk for developing type one diabetes. Researchers enrolled 107 healthy and pregnant Israeli women, and they tested maternal and chord blood at birth and, for some mothers, during the first trimester.
The researchers found a significant correlation between rotavirus antibodies and the presence of autoantibodies that attack pancreatic cells. Most notably, the researchers found that, in addition to rotavirus antibodies, autoantibodies were present in the chord blood of five newborns but not in maternal blood. They claimed that this was evidence in favor of an independent fetal autoimmune response; that is, they suggested that the viral infection had triggered the onset of T1DM in the fetus. Though the mechanism is unclear, the researchers hypothesize that infection damages pancreatic cells, thereby triggering autoimmunity.
The researchers’ findings were interesting, but I believe similar studies should be conducted with a greater number of participants and controls (experimental or statistical) for genetic susceptibility (the researchers say that none of the mothers had a family history of diabetes, but this is unspecific language). I also believe that the research design could be improved by taking samples throughout the pregnancy. Samples were obtained from mothers at the first trimester, but it would be helpful to monitor new infections and establish a more credible correlation by obtaining samples at the start of the second and third trimesters too.
Find the ScienceDaily article here: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/10/141003135419.htm
Find the original research paper here: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/store/10.1111/dme.12404/asset/dme12404.pdf?v=1&t=i0vv84jl&s=e69b5f40f138ffe0545e467569a774add0d1d260
Apparently, studies of diabetogenic viruses are not that new! Check out another study about diabetes linked to viral infections in somewhat older children: