Recent research part-funded by JDRF and led by Dr Emma-Hamilton Williams from the University of Queensland found that targeting microorganisms in the gut has the potential to prevent type 1 diabetes.
The microorganism population in your gut, including bacteria and viruses, is known as the microbiome. Many of the microorganisms help us – for example, by helping to digest food, making vitamins and helping to fight off disease, but some microorganisms can be harmful.
Emerging research suggests that an imbalance in the type of microorganisms in our gut might contribute to the development of different diseases. People with type 1 diabetes (T1D) are known to have different types of gut microorganisms compared to people without it, but we don’t know why this is, and we don’t know if this happens before, or because of T1D developing. It’s a bit like the chicken or the egg debate – which came first?
Dr Hamilton-Williams’ research aimed to find out whether genetics contribute to shaping the microbiome in our gut, and whether changes in the microbiome happen before, or as a result of T1D.
The research team found that changes in gut microbiota were a result of genes related to T1D risk as well as changes in immune system function in mice.
“This research has shown there is a genetic component to microbiota and the immune response involved in regulating it,” she said. “We showed that genetic susceptibility and change in immune system function led to alterations in the microbiota,” said Dr Hamilton-Williams
“The implications are that a person’s genetics contribute to an unhealthy microbiota as well as their diet.”
“This means that changes in the microbiota in type 1 diabetes occur before symptoms develop, and are not just a side-effect of the disease.”
The researchers also confirmed these findings in a human study called TwinsUK, which is looking at people at genetic risk of T1D.
The next step is to assess clinical trials using therapies to change the function of the immune system, to see if this changes the mix of gut microbiome. Once we know this, scientists could create treatments that target the gut microbiota to create a better balance of healthy microorganisms that could lead to preventative therapies in the future. Preventing T1D is one of the three key pillars of JDRF’s research – cure, prevent and treat. Successfully preventing T1D will mean future generations will never need to experience its daily burdens.
The research was published in the scientific journal Microbiome.
Dr Emma Hamilton-Williams is the recipient of a JDRF Career Development Award and was a previous participant of the JDRF/MGF Future Research Leaders Program. Read more about her work here.
Be part of solving the mysteries of type 1 diabetes development
Are you interested in taking part in a study seeking to find out more about the gut microbiome and how it might contribute to protect against T1D? The ENDIA study is currently taking place in Australia with the aim to find ways to prevent T1D in future generations. You might be eligible if you or your partner is pregnant and the baby will have a first-degree relative with T1D (mum, dad or sibling).
See the ENDIA website for more information or call: (08) 8161 8747