Australian researchers have identified the rotavirus infection as the cause of a rapid increase in the rate of development of type 1 diabetes in lab mice. They believe that development of the disease in the animals could be due to a medical phenomenon known as the bystander effect.
A team from the University of Melbourne analyzed the role the rotavirus infection plays in autoimmune disease found in mice, according to ScienceDaily. Their findings, published in the journal PLOS Pathogens, suggest that what they found could pertain to rotavirus infections in humans.
Rotavirus is responsible for inflammation of the stomach and intestines. Symptoms include vomiting, severe diarrhea, fever and abdominal pain. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the virus was the leading U.S. cause of severe diarrhea among infants and very young children prior to the 2006 introduction of a rotavirus vaccine.
Healthcare providers typically diagnose type 1 diabetes, previously called juvenile diabetes, in children and young adults. In patients with the type 1 form of the illness, the body fails to produce insulin. Genetics Home Reference says that in the United States, this form of diabetes strikes 10 to 20 people per 100,000. Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and European countries have similar occurrence rates. Globally, somewhere between 5 and 10 percent of diabetics have the type 1 form.
The Australian researchers were the first to observe the association between rotavirus activation and the acceleration of the development of type 1 diabetes, Associate Professor Barbara Coulson, the lead researcher, states. The scientists believe the development of the disease could be the result of a bystander effect in which the rotavirus spurs a major activation of a mouse’s immune system. The reaction then extends beyond an attack on the invading virus to also include the body’s own cells, in particular, cells in the pancreas that produce insulin.
The results of the study have potentially important implications for children who are not vaccinated for the rotavirus or otherwise contract it. The scientists acknowledge that additional research must occur to determine the relevance of their findings to human subjects. However, getting enough information to understand exactly how rotavirus affects the development of type 1 diabetes in people could help identify and implement a preventive treatment for at-risk children. One potential treatment researchers would likely explore is suppressing the specific type of response the immune systems mounts.
Vonda J. Sines has published thousands of print and online health and medical articles. She specializes in diseases and other conditions that affect the quality of life.