A new Israeli study has revealed that children born in the fall or winter are more likely to develop childhood diabetes, due to viral infections contracted by women who give birth during these seasons.
For many years, scientists and doctors have attempted to determine the causes of the disease. Vast sums of money were invested in these efforts, but a clear answer has never been found, and the disease remained incurable. Those who suffer from Type 1 diabetes depend on injections every day of their lives, medications and a special diet.
A study conducted recently by researchers at the Tel Aviv University found that childhood diabetes has origins in the fetal period, due to the mother's exposure to seasonal viruses. In other words, children who are born in the autumn or winter are at greater risk of developing the disease.
The research team was headed by Prof. Zvi Laron, Professor Emeritus of Pediatric Endocrinology at TAU's Sackler Faculty of Medicine who is also the Director of the Endocrinology and Diabetes Research Unit at Schneider Children's Medical Center of Israel. The study was done in collaboration with Dr. Lester Shulman, head of the Environmental Virology Laboratory at the Health Ministry. The findings of the research were published in the Diabetic Medicine Journal.
As part of the study, blood samples were collected from 107 pregnant women and from their umbilical cords, and the researchers aim to test another 900 women.
"We knew that Type 1 diabetes was associated with other autoimmune diseases like Hashimoto Thyroiditis, celiac disease, and multiple sclerosis, so we investigated the seasonality of birth months for these respective diseases in Israel and other countries," Prof. Laron said in a press release.
"We found that the seasonality of the birth of children who went on to develop these diseases did indeed differ from that of the general public.
"In further studies," Dr. Laron said, "we found evidence that viral infections of the mother during pregnancy induced damage to the pancreas of the mother and/or the fetus, evidenced by specific antibodies including those affecting the pancreatic cells producing insulin."
Prof. Motti Ravid, the director of Mayanei HaYeshua Medical Center in Bnei Brak, said that the study's findings are important, but the path to possible treatment of viral infections is still far off.