Possible vaccine link with type 1 diabetes decline

Possible vaccine link with type 1 diabetes decline

Illuminate newsletter index page, March 2019
March 2019

Professor Len Harrison
Professor Len Harrison is investigating the development
of type 1 diabetes.

Institute Professor Len Harrison is a senior author on new research pointing to a possible link between rotavirus and type 1 diabetes.

A drop in the number of young children diagnosed with type 1 diabetes could be associated with the introduction of a routine rotavirus vaccination of Australian infants.

Type 1 diabetes is a serious, lifelong autoimmune condition, in which the body’s immune system destroys cells in the pancreas that produce insulin, a hormone controlling the level of glucose in the blood.

Drop in type 1 diabetes

Researchers investigated the number of Australian children diagnosed with type 1 diabetes from 2000 to 2015 and found that type 1 diabetes diagnoses in children aged 0-4 years declined from 2007 – the year that rotavirus vaccine was introduced as a routine infant vaccination.

The rotavirus vaccine is routinely given to Australian infants aged two and four months to protect them against a severe, potentially life-threatening form of diarrhoea.

This is the first time the rate of type 1 diabetes in young children in Australia has fallen since the 1980s. While not conclusively linking the rotavirus vaccine with protection against type 1 diabetes, the discovery builds on earlier research suggesting natural rotavirus infection may be a risk factor for type 1 diabetes.

Exploring the connection

The study’s senior author, Professor Len Harrison from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, said the discovery followed on from earlier research at the Institute implicating rotavirus infection in the development of type 1 diabetes.  

“Further research will look more closely at the correlation, by comparing the health records of young children with or without type 1 diabetes,” he said.