Could an imbalance of gut bacteria contribute to type 1 diabetes?

Posted on 15 August 2018

Man in grey jumper and jeans clutching his stomach

Changes in gut bacteria may be linked to the progression of type 1 diabetes, a new study suggests.

The researchers found that people recently diagnosed with type 1 as well as relatives at high risk of the condition had a different set of gut bacteria than people without type 1 diabetes.

The Australian researchers, who were funded by JDRF, say that this is the first time a direct link between pancreas function and gut bacteria has been shown.

If we can understand these changes in gut bacteria balance, it could help us to predict and monitor the progression of type 1 diabetes, and develop new treatments to slow or stop these changes.

Why did they do this research?

Type 1 diabetes is a complex condition, and there is still a lot that is unknown about how and why the condition develops.

Some researchers have been investigating possible links between gut bacteria and type 1 diabetes. Previous evidence suggests that people who go on to develop type 1 diabetes have experienced mild inflammation of the gut, which researchers think might be exacerbated by an imbalance of gut bacteria.

The team of researchers therefore decided to study how gut bacteria might be affecting pancreas function in type 1 diabetes.

What did they do?

The team analysed bacterial and human proteins found in stool samples from four groups of people: people with new-onset type 1 diabetes, relatives at high risk of developing the condition, relatives who were not found to be at high risk, and healthy people with no family history of type 1.

What did they find?

People recently diagnosed and relatives at high risk of type 1 diabetes had a different gut bacteria ‘signature’ compared with those without type 1 diabetes.

There were also key differences between the groups in human proteins associated with inflammation and pancreas function.

What does this mean for type 1?

These results suggest that changes in gut bacteria are directly linked with the onset of type 1 diabetes, and that these changes could be used to predict future diagnoses of type 1 diabetes.

Lead researcher Dr Emma Hamilton-Williams hopes that these findings will lead to new monitoring methods and treatments:

“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.

“Understanding what pathways lead patients to develop type 1 diabetes is key to developing new treatment strategies and accurately measuring the success of clinical trials.”

What’s the next step?

Dr Hamilton-Williams and her team intend to continue studying the link between gut bacteria and type 1 diabetes:

“We would like to conduct a study where we monitor subjects before and after diagnosis to confirm whether the proteins we identified predict disease progression.”

In addition, Dr Hamilton-Williams wants to see if modifying the balance of gut bacteria can help people diagnosed with type 1 diabetes:

“The team is now involved in clinically trialling a specialised dietary supplement to target the gut [bacteria] in patients with type 1 diabetes. We hope that this treatment reverses the disease-associated changes we found in our study.”

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