Type 1 diabetes, also known as juvenile diabetes, is a disease in which the body does not produce enough insulin to process glucose in the blood. A new study, the largest of its kind, published by Cell, Host & Microbe explores the relationship between decreased genetic diversity of gut microbes and the onset of type 1 diabetes. This could lead to the development of new therapies. Aleksandar Kostic from the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard was lead author on the paper, and the work was funded by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF).
The human body contains about 100 trillion microbial cells, ten times as many as human cells. This microbiota is essential for proper digestion, skin health, vaginal health, and a number of other things. When the balance of these microbes gets out of whack, health issues can set in. Though prior work has indicated a link between microbiota and one's predisposition to type 1 diabetes, the current research has reinforced that association.
"We know from previous human studies that changes in gut bacterial composition correlate with the early development of type 1 diabetes, and that the interactions between bacterial networks may be a contributing factor in why some people at risk for the disease develop type 1 diabetes and others don't," Jessica Dunne from JDRF said in a press release. "This is the first study to show how specific changes in the microbiome are affecting the progression to symptomatic T1D.”
The study focused on 33 infants with a genetic predisposition to developing type 1 diabetes, monitoring stool samples over the course of three years. These stool samples were tested, giving them an indication of the diversity and health of the individual’s microbiota. A few of the infants being followed were diagnosed with type 1 diabetes during the study.
"This study is unique because we have taken a cohort of children at high risk of developing type 1 diabetes and then followed what changes in the microbiome tip the balance toward progression to the disease," added senior author Ramnik Xavier.
On average, the diversity of their respective microbiomes was reduced by about 25% when compared to the healthy children who did not develop the disease. On top of merely serving as a control, the children who did not develop type 1 diabetes served as a fantastic resource for learning about how the microbiome develops in early childhood, and how it is maintained over time.
"Whether the bacterial community is very small, as it is in early infancy, or if it's larger as it is later in life, the community is always serving the same major functions regardless of its composition. No matter which species are present, they encode the same major metabolic pathways, indicating that they're doing the same jobs," Kostic explained.
Moving forward, the researchers would like to follow infants genetically predisposed to type 1 diabetes from different regions. The children studied in this paper were all from Finland and Estonia. Analyzing children from different regions could help account for geographical and regional dietary factors which may not have influenced this study.