Germs could be the culprit behind type 1 diabetes, according to research from the UK.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the killer T-cells of the body, which normally fight off infection, aggressively turn aggressively the beta cells in the pancreas. The new research, produced by Cardiff University, Wales, found that the T-cells are activated by certain bacteria, and this may be key to understanding the condition.

Previously, a study team from Cardiff’s Systems Immunity Research Institute isolated a killer T-cell from a patient with type 1 diabetes and found it was highly ‘cross-reactive’, meaning that the cell responds to a variety of triggers. Therefore, researchers hypothesized that the T-cells in a type 1 diabetic patient may end up targeting the beta cells due to interference from a pathogen.

Lead author Professor Andy Sewell, and his team used Diamond Light Source, a synchrotron facility that was used to harness incredibly intense X-rays. These rays were used to determine how T-cells reacted to bacteria.

Dr David Cole, who worked on the study, explained: “We still have much to learn about the definitive cause of type 1 diabetes and we know that there are other genetic and environmental factors at play.”

He added that “in this new study, we wanted to find out what was causing these T-cells to kill beta cells. We identified part of a bug that turns on killer T-cells so they latch onto beta cells. This finding sheds new light on how these killer T-cells are turned into rogues, leading to the development of type 1 diabetes.”

This is a discovery that the team hope will lead to new ways to diagnose or even prevent type 1 diabetes.