Bacteria viruses

Gut bacteria is one of the hottest areas of research at the moment. In recent years, gut bacteria has been linked with all sorts of health conditions from autoimmune conditions, such type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis to problems with weight gain and also type 2 diabetes.

A study by researchers from Harvard, MIT and Massachusetts General Hospital has found a significant change in gut bacteria of children prior to diagnosis of type 1 diabetes.

The study was a longitudinal study, meaning that the subjects were followed over a number of years with regular monitoring. In this case, gut bacteria was monitored. The study involved 33 infants who were known to be at high risk of developing type 1 diabetes. The infants were regularly monitored from birth up to the age of 3 years old.

Decrease in diversity of gut bacteria

The results showed that initially the diversity of gut bacteria increased with time for all the children. However, between the ages of 1 and 2 years old, some of the children experienced a slower growth in diversity of bacteria and, after 2 years, diversity of the gut bacteria began to decrease.

What the researchers observed is that the children whose gut bacteria continued to consistently grow over time did not develop type 1 diabetes, whereas the children who experienced reduced gut bacteria diversity, went on to develop type 1 diabetes within about a year.

As well as being fascinating, the study could help researchers both to predict when a child may be at risk of a type 1 diabetes before symptoms appear and it may also allow researchers to develop treatments or other strategies to potentially prevent type 1 diabetes occurring.

Whilst the research suggests that a change in gut bacteria may bring on type 1 diabetes, it is possible that another factor may be involved that could lead to both a change in gut bacteria and the development of type 1 diabetes. As a result, it is too early to state gut bacteria’s involvement as the cause but it does appear to be a strong lead.

The next step in the research will be to investigate how environmental factors may influence gut bacteria and subsequent risk of developing the autoimmune condition.