Quote:Finnish study connects infants' intestinal microbes to childhood diabetes
One of the biggest answers to this question was hinted at by the study, conducted with nearly 300 Finnish, Estonian and Russian children by studying their faeces during their first three years of life. All the subjects had a genetic predisposition to diabetes.
The first result was a surprise that opened many doors to solving the puzzle.
"The composition of the microflora in children's intestines was extremely different in Russian and Finnish infants," Vatanen explains. "Finnish subjects began to develop autoantibodies to Type I diabetes, meaning the disease's early symptoms. Russian children did not develop the antibodies at all, despite having the same risk."
Vatanen's conclusion was that something in Finnish children's surroundings predisposes them to autoimmune illnesses. The Estonian infants' results were also eye-opening.
"A couple decades ago Type I diabetes incidence was very low in Estonia, but now it's almost as common as in Finland," Vatanen says.
A bacterial surface molecule called lipopolysaccharide (LPS) was a key difference. Finnish kids have much more of them than Russians, which is why Vatanen's team tested its link with diabetes.
"It is important in the first years of immune system development. In a way, intestinal microbes teach the body's immune system. If something goes wrong this early on, autoimmune diseases may become more common."