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Cell Function Epigenetic Changes Can Detect Type 1 Diabetes

Source: Press release University of Turku Reading Time: 3 min

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Two new studies have revealed that children undergo epigenetic changes in the cells of their immune system before the antibodies of the Type 1 diabetes disease are found in their blood. The studies provide new opportunities to detect the disease at an early stage.

Epigenetic changes can affect how our genes work.
Epigenetic changes can affect how our genes work.
(Source: Pixabay)

Turku/Finland – Epigenetic changes can affect how our genes work. Environmental factors, such as viral infections, can cause epigenetic changes. The findings in the epigenetic makeup linked to diabetes were discovered in two new studies led by researchers from Turku Bioscience at the University of Turku, Finland.

– We uncovered previously unknown, early-onset epigenetic changes. They offer us new opportunities to further develop ways to identify children who have a risk of developing type 1 diabetes even before they get sick, says Professor Riitta Lahesmaa, Director of Turku Bioscience and a group leader in the Inflames research flagship initiative.

Earlier studies have shown that certain antibodies detected in children’s blood samples indicate an increased risk of developing type 1 diabetes in the near future. So that medical professionals could intervene in the disease even sooner, earlier disease indicators than the antibodies are needed to detect the risk. This involves searching for biomarkers indicating type 1 diabetes, and epigenetic changes could be such a biomarker.

– Our observations on epigenetics are extremely important as our goal is to develop methods and tools to prevent the onset of type 1 diabetes in children who are at risk of developing the disease, says Professor Laura Elo. Elo is the Director of the Medical Bioinformatics Centre at Turku Bioscience and a group leader in the Inflames research flagship.

Finnish Children Have an Increased Risk of Developing Type 1 Diabetes

In Finland, children's risk of developing type 1 diabetes is the highest in the world. In addition to the genetic susceptibility, environmental factors have a great significance for developing the disease. The environmental factors include, for example, excessive level of hygiene, biodiversity loss, and environmental toxins.

The newly published studies are based on long-term interdisciplinary research collaboration with international partners. The project has included doctors who are in charge of the patients and also conduct clinical research, researchers in molecular medicine and immunology, and experts in computational science. In the studies, researchers analyzed longitudinal samples with deep sequencing covering the entire genome as well as with computational methods and artificial intelligence.

– Our research was enabled by close collaboration with Professor Mikael Knip from the University of Helsinki, who coordinates a study funded by the EU. He is also one of the key scientists in the national Type 1 Diabetes Prediction and Prevention (DIPP) project which was a partner in the other study, highlights Professor Lahesmaa.

The studies were published in the esteemed Diabetologia and Diabetes Care journals. The studies were funded by the Academy of Finland, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (USA), European Union, Business Finland, Novo Nordisk, and Inflames Flagship.

The publications:

Starskaia I, Laajala E, Grönroos T, Härkönen T, Junttila S, Kattelus R, Kallionpää H, Laiho A, Suni V, Tillmann V, Lund R, Elo LL, Lähdesmäki H, Knip M, Kalim UU, Lahesmaa R. Early DNA methylation changes in children developing beta cell autoimmunity at a young age. Diabetologia. 2022 Feb 10. PMID: 35142878

Suomi T, Kalim UU, Rasool O, Laiho A, Kallionpää H, Vähä-Mäkilä M, Nurmio M, Mykkänen J, Härkönen T, Hyöty H, Ilonen J, Veijola R, Toppari J, Knip M, Elo LL, Lahesmaa R. Type 1 Diabetes in Children With Genetic Risk May Be Predicted Very Early

With a Blood miRNA. Diabetes Care. 2022 Feb 8:dc212120. PMID: 35134118

Inflames is a research flagship, a joint effort of University of Turku and Åbo Akademi University, funded by the Academy of Finland. It aims at identifying new targets for drug development and engaging in drug development together with biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies. Inflames also develops diagnostics so that targeted therapies can be designed for individual patients.


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