From Ohio, USA:
Where can I find research that discusses the link between viral infections and the onset of Type 1 diabetes? Who is an expert on the subject?
The great majority of cases of juvenile diabetes have an autoimmune basis. This process is dependent on both a genetic and an environmental component. Viruses have attracted a lot of attention as the latter factor; but except for the case of rubella in pregnancy their role has not been convincingly demonstrated. The obvious difficulty in establishing their importance is that the initiation of the auto-immune process occurs months or often years before the destruction of the beta cells has reached the point of needing exogenous insulin.
You could get a good idea of what has been done in this field and who the experts are by looking at Medline.
Some very interesting (but so far uncorroborated) data has recently come from Geneva (Conrad.R., et al. Cell. 90:303,1997). These geneticists have suggested that in Type 1 diabetes a retrovirus gets incorporated into the human genome and produces a protein which is a superantigen. This in turn induces a subset of T cells which are capable of destroying the beta cells over time. If these ideas turn out to be true they may not only help explain the complex process of autoimmunity but combined with the technique of PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) may offer an improved methodology for identifying people who are at high risk for Type 1 Diabetes.
Original posting 12 Dec 97
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