New evidence that a virus is involved in the onset of type 1 diabetes may aid in development of a vaccine to stop the disease.

Scientists at Eastern Virginia Medical School and the University of Massachusetts conducted the study, “Coxsackievirus-induced Proteomic Alterations in Primary Human Islets Provide Insights for the Etiology of Diabetes.” The research appears in the Journal of the Endocrine Society.

Scientists have long suspected that a virus contributes to the development of type 1 diabetes, which occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks the pancreas and kills beta cells that produce insulin. Mounting clinical and laboratory evidence suggests that viral infections accelerate this autoimmune process.

To better understand how the disease progresses, the scientists examined cultured islet cells, which include the insulin-producing beta cells. The team used a process called mass spectrometry to compare islet cells infected with Coxsackievirus and uninfected control islet cells.

The process revealed specific genes and proteins that changed after the cells were exposed to the virus. These new insights could prove useful in helping to identify individuals at risk for type 1 diabetes and could aid in development of ways to intervene or even prevent development of the disease.

“The next step is to determine and validate the expression levels of these genes and proteins in clinical human samples using targeted mass spectrometry methods,” says Julius Nyalwidhe, PhD, EVMS Associate Professor of Microbiology and Molecular Cell Biology and an expert in the science of proteomics at the Leroy T. Canoles Jr. Cancer Research Center's George L. Wright Center for Biomedical Proteomics.

The team will use pancreas tissue samples from the Network of Pancreatic Organ Donors with Diabetes (nPOD) to ascertain whether some of the proteins could be surrogates for type 1 diabetes detection as well as potential targets for prevention and treatment using vaccines and drugs.

The research is supported by the National Institutes of Health and the JDRF Diabetes Foundation.