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When my son was diagnosed with diabetes (type I) last year (at age 19), we were told that doctors now believe that this is caused by a virus that attacks the pancreas and kills the islet cells. There was no history of diabetes in the family up until my son was diagnosed. Is this true? The virus? If so, has the virus been identified?


The idea that viruses have a role in causing Type 1 diabetes has a special appeal because of the possibility of developing a vaccine. It is based on two sets of observations. The first has been that the onset of clinical symptoms is sometimes associated with a viral like illness. Nowadays however this would be regarded as a non-specific stress not as cause and effect. More importantly viruses have been shown to damage islet sells in culture and to cause diabetes in mice. In man, serum antibody levels for viruses such as Coxsackie B, mumps and rubella have been compared as between new-onset diabetics and non diabetics. Sometimes the results have suggested a difference; but sometimes not. Similar findings have been obtained when looking for actual viral proteins using a technic called the "polymerase chain reaction." The special difficulty in interpreting these results however is that whatever the environmental factor that precipitates the immunological change in genetically susceptible persons, it must have taken place in most cases months or years before the clinical onset.


Original posting 11 Sep 96


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Last Updated: Tuesday April 06, 2010 15:08:52
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