Can Germs Cause Type 1 Diabetes?

Written by - Reviewed by Consumer Health Digest Team

Published: May 18, 2016 | Last Updated: Mar 29, 2019


Type 1 diabetes, formerly known as juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes, is a chronic condition wherein pancreas produces little to no insulin. The primary difference between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes is that in latter one’s body becomes resistant to insulin. Although exact cause of Type 1 diabetes is largely unknown, experts have defined potential contributors. For example, the latest study suggests one of the causes could be down to germs. Keep reading to find out more.

Germs and Type 1 Diabetes

Germs and Type 1 Diabetes

Andy Sewell and group of scientists at the Cardiff University used a Diamond Light Source, a synchrotron facility in the UK to shine powerful X-rays into samples and discovered that the same killer T-cells that cause Type 1 diabetes are activated by some bacteria.

Although killer T-cells are effective in destroying germs, they can be quite dangerous when they attack our own tissues. When it comes to Type 1 diabetes, it is assumed killer T-cells attack pancreatic beta cells which make insulin. After these beta cells are destroyed, the affected individual has to inject insulin on daily basis to remain healthy.

Results of the study, published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, reveals that killer T-cells sense the environment using cell surface receptors which act like sensitive fingertips and scan for germs. In some cases, they recognize wrong target and attack our own tissues instead of germs. This study identified part of a bug which activates killer T-cells thus causing them to latch on beta cells.

Scientists from the Cardiff University conducted multiple studies to inspect Type 1 diabetes and its causes. They isolated a killer T-cell from a Type 1 diabetes patient to examine interaction that destroys insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. Findings showed that these killer T-cells were highly cross-reactive which means they react to multiple triggers thus raising the possibility that a pathogen simulates T-cells that cause Type 1 diabetes.

Cardiff University’s study is significant due to the fact it gives us first ever glimpse of how germs can trigger killer T-cells that cause Type 1 diabetes. This is also the first time some study suggests that external factor could trigger T-cells. Scientists hope findings from this study will influence new ways of diagnosing, preventing, and slowing down progression of Type 1 diabetes in future.

Type 1 Diabetes Facts

Type 1 Diabetes Facts

BMJ Open Diabetes Research and care study discovered that prevalence of Type 1 diabetes is increasing globally. The ever-increasing prevalence of Type 1 diabetes is a good reason to find out more about this autoimmune disease. Here are some facts published by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF):

  • Scientists believe heredity factors play a pivotal role
  • Although insulin injections are a must for a healthy life, they do not cure Type 1 diabetes
  • As many as 3 million Americans might have Type 1 diabetes
  • Every year, 15,000 children and 15,000 adults are diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes which accounts for 80 people per day

Warning signs that indicate a person or child could have Type 1 diabetes include:

  • Frequent urination
  • Extreme thirst
  • Unconsciousness
  • Drowsiness or lethargy
  • Sudden weight loss or increased appetite
  • Sudden vision changes
  • Sugar in the urine
  • Fruity odor on the breath
  • Heavy breathing

Symptoms of Type 1 diabetes could also include bedwetting in children who didn’t wet their bed during the night, irritable behavior, and a vaginal yeast infection in women.


Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that prevents one’s body to produce insulin. So far, the exact cause of this disease wasn’t discovered and its assumed genetics plays a big part. Recent study from Cardiff University proved germs could cause Type 1 diabetes as well and it’s the first time some scientific research correlates external factor with this autoimmune disease.

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