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, 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 will work to identify connections between early viral infection and risk for T1D, by tracking changes in the microbiome that might serve as an early warning system for the disease. The results of this work could change how T1D onset is detected and how early infection is managed in genetically high-risk children.