A team working at Tampere University has discovered the virus that causes type 1 diabetes. The enterovirus penetrates the pancreas and destroys insulin-producing cells, eventually causing diabetes.
Researchers have looked at more than a hundred different strains of the virus and pinpointed five that could cause diabetes. They believe they could produce a vaccine against those strains.
”We have identified one virus type that carries the biggest risk,” said professor Heikki Hyöty. ”A vaccine could also protect against its close relatives, to give the best possible effect.”
Ready to test on humans
A similar enterovirus causes polio, which has been almost eradicated in many parts of the world thanks to vaccination programmes. A prototype diabetes vaccine has already been produced and tested on animals.
”We know that this vaccine is effective in mice,” noted Hyöty. ”It is important to test it in people, so that we can be sure that the vaccine prevents diabetes.”
Taking the vaccine through a clinical trial would cost some 700 million euros. Some funding is in place from the United States and from Europe, but more is required.
”Money is the biggest obstacle to testing in humans at the moment,” said Hyöty. ”The matter is of international interest, and people are interested in us. I’m optimistic that the funding will come.”
Tampere University has been co-operating with Turku and Oulu universities in the DIPP (Diabetes Prediction and Prevention) project.