Australian researchers have found a direct link between the bacteria in our gut and pancreatic function in people with type 1 diabetes (T1D) and those at high risk, for the first time.
All the microorganisms in the gut, including bacteria and viruses, make up what is called the gut microbiome. The microbiome influences our health and potentially our development of T1D. The group, led by JDRF researcher Dr Emma Hamilton-Williams at the University of Queensland, recently discovered that genetics related to T1D contribute to changes in gut microbiome, and the change happens before, rather than as a result of T1D. This implies that the gut microbiome, which forms part of the body’s immune system, has a role in the development of T1D.
In their most recent study, the group investigated what changes in the gut environment actually mean in terms of function, and how these are different in people with and without T1D.
The team analysed samples from people with T1D, people with immune markers for T1D but who have not yet been diagnosed, and people without T1D. They used a specialised technique called ‘metaproteomics’ to identify what microorganisms were living in the gut of these people based on the types of proteins they produce.
Dr Hamilton-Williams commented on their findings, “by studying the stool samples of participants, we found that changes in gut bacteria weren’t just a side effect of the disease, but are likely related to disease progression.”
There were differences in proteins associated with pancreatic function and inflammation. Proteins involved in maintaining the gut barrier, absorption and digestive functions were depleted in people with T1D, but not others. They showed for the first time that dysfunction is present in both undiagnosed high-risk individuals and those with newly-diagnosed T1D.
“Seeing the same characteristics in recently diagnosed patients and undiagnosed high-risk relatives means these proteins may be used to predict a future diabetes diagnosis.”
This research helps us understand what pathways lead to someone developing T1D, which is key to developing new treatment strategies and accurately measuring the success of clinical trials. It is hoped that treatments targeting the gut bacteria could be a reality in future. The answer to preventing T1D in future generations might just lie in our gut!
Next, the team would like to conduct a study monitoring people before and after diagnosis to confirm whether the proteins they identified predict disease progression.
Dr Emma Hamilton-Williams is also part of a clinical trial investigating a specialised dietary supplement to target the gut microbiota in people with T1D.
The research was published in the scientific journal Diabetes Care.
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.
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