The aim: to understand the pathogenic mechanisms of type 1 diabetes
The idea that type 1 diabetes is caused by a virus is an old hypothesis that has recently been revived. Malin Flodström Tullberg researches on the link between enteroviruses and type 1 diabetes. She also hopes to be able to contribute to a new enterovirus vaccine.
Malin Flodström Tullberg researches type 1 diabetes and an important focus is its association with a family of virus called enteroviruses.
“According to several studies, many cases of type 1 diabetes seem to have been preceded by enterovirus infections,” says Professor Flodström Tullberg. “The idea that diabetes can be triggered by an infection is an old one, but one that these studies have now brought back to the fore.”
Professor Flodström Tullberg’s research group studies how the immune system normally combats enteroviruses, which are commonly found in the body, and what happens when the virus manages to infect insulin-producing cells. Their aim is to understand the pathogenic mechanisms of type 1 diabetes – knowledge that can contribute to the development of preventative treatments. She is also involved in the development of new enterovirus vaccines with researchers at the University of Tampere.
“Enteroviruses rarely change, which gives us a crucial edge in the development of a vaccine,” says Professor Flodström Tullberg. “On the other hand, there are many variants of the virus, which presents a challenge”.
The knowledge can help scientists to understand other diseases caused by enteroviruses, such as inflammation of the cardiac muscle, meninges, pancreas and liver.
Another line of research being pursued by Professor Flodström Tullberg concerns cystic fibrosis (CF), which, like type 1 diabetes, is linked to the pancreas and the immune system.
“We and our colleagues in Lund have discovered, for instance, that the ion channel that is mutated in CF can also be found in the insulin-producing cells,” she says. “Another thing we’ll be studying is immune system changes in CF.”
Text: Anders Nilsson, first published in "From Cell to Society" 2016.