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Behind the headlines: the causes of type 1

06 July 2012

There have been some suggestions in the media this week that type 1 diabetes may be avoidable. Stopping type 1 diabetes before it develops is one of JDRF's key research priorities and we have several clinical trials underway looking at slowing or preventing the immune system response that causes type 1, but at the moment, there is no proven way to stop it developing.

 Type 1 is in part caused by genes and we know which ones put you at greater risk of developing the condition. However, having certain genes does not mean a person will definitely develop type 1 and there are many cases of identical twins where one twin develops type 1 and the other does not. These twins have exactly the same genes so scientists think that there must be something else in their environment that triggers the immune system to attack beta cells.

 There are also huge variations in the numbers of people who develop type 1 in different countries.  For example Finland has the highest incidence of type 1 in the world and Scotland has the highest prevalence in the UK. These different rates of type 1 are likely caused by a mixture of genetic and environmental factors.

We still don't fully understand what these factors are, and they may be different for different people.  Some evidence points to particular viruses and levels of vitamin D, but further investigation is still needed, which is why more research into the underlying causes of type 1 is vital.  For example,  JDRF is current funding a large international study to try and work out what environmental factors increase the risk of developing type 1. Researchers are following  7000 children who are genetically at risk of type 1 diabetes. The study will follow these children over a 15 year period and try to identify any environmental factors that may activate the development of type 1.

Read more about our research programme to cure and prevent type 1 diabetes.


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