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sector_ico_Health_trans Human Health

Modeling the influence of virus-microbiome relationships in type 1 diabetes

  • Project Leaders: Lisa Osborne, Sean Crowe
  • Institutions: University of British Columbia (UBC)
  • Budget: $250000
  • Program/Competition: Sector Innovation Program
  • Genome Centre(s): Genome British Columbia
  • Fiscal Year: 2018
  • Status: Closed

Type 1 Diabetes (T1D) is a disease that typically manifests early, affecting approximately 1 in 500 children. As T1D develops, immune cells incorrectly identify the body’s own cells as invaders and attack them, particularly targeting the cells in the pancreas that make insulin, a hormone that helps the body's cells use sugar for energy. Without insulin, the sugar stays in the blood, causing blood sugar levels to get too high, which can lead to an increased risk for several serious health problems.

The most reliable way to detect the onset of T1D is by identifying increased levels of blood sugar, but by this time the disease has progressed so significantly that there are few insulin producing cells remaining. A more reliable early detection method might enable intervention before all the cells are lost.

The cause of T1D is not entirely understood, however, scientists believe that both genetic factors and environmental triggers are involved. Previous work has shown that the microbiome (the community of microorganisms that live in our bodies) is different in people with T1D. One unexplored part of this story is the connection between early childhood illness (especially viruses that affect the digestive system), changes to the microbiome, and increased risk for T1D.

Drs. Lisa Osborne and Sean Crowe at the University of British Columbia showed virus infection is likely a risk factor for T1D by changing the compositions of the microbiome. In addition, they also identified a dietary supplement approach that could modulate the microbiome and potentially slow down disease progression. While this is a promising discovery, the group is planning further studies and collaborations with clinicians to validate this in the clinic.