Are Microbiome Changes a Cause or Symptom of Type 1 Diabetes?
Two years ago, I interviewed Alex Kostic, who was then a postdoctoral fellow at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard exploring the microbiome’s connection to type 1 diabetes. His work studying children in Finland and parts of neighboring Russia showed that the microbiomes of children with type 1 diabetes were drastically different from the microbiomes of those without the disease. Now Kostic is running his own lab at the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston, and investigating questions such as whether or not the changes in the microbiome are causing disease or are merely a symptom of it. He is also looking at the microbiota of the Joslin medalists—those who have lived with type 1 diabetes for more than fifty years. About 20-30 percent of those medalists still produce a trace amount of insulin, and Kostic is trying to understand whether that insulin production can be explained by differences in those medalists’ microbiomes.
Jessica Dunne, director of discovery research at JDRF, which is funding Kostic’s study of the medalists commented on the new lens that Kostic is bringing to the study of T1D. “We’re often thinking about how the microbiome is affecting the immune system. He took a different tack that we haven’t seen anyone take: what’s the role of the microbiome on beta cells? To me, it’s a completely novel approach; it’s very out of the box thinking in terms of how the microbiome can affect residual insulin production in type 1.” The question is, she continued, “can we reawaken those sleeping beta cells by modifying the microbiome?” Dr. George King Continue reading