It has long been hypothesized that viral infections play a significant role in the development of type 1 diabetes. Researchers in Finland have been investigating this connection for over 25 years and now believe they have targeted the particular virus group that can trigger the disease. After developing a prototype vaccine the team is now moving to human clinical trials in 2018.

Though not as common as type 2 diabetes, type 1 diabetes it still affects millions of people worldwide. The disease generally begins in childhood and an estimated 80,000 new cases are diagnosed worldwide every year.

Type 1 diabetes occurs when the immune system destroys insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. Recent research suggests that enteroviruses could play a strong role in the onset of type 1 diabetes, with several studies showing that the presence of an enteroviral infection significantly increases the chance of a person developing the disease.

The causal relationship between an enteroviral infection and type 1 diabetes is still unknown, but one study suggests it could act as "a critical trigger to push an already dysfunctional metabolic equilibrium over the brink."

A research group at the University of Tampere initially looked at the more than 100 different enterovirus types found in humans. After pinpointing six specific viral strains that could be associated with type 1 diabetes they ultimately identified the one type that held the biggest risk. A prototype vaccine was then produced and successfully tested on animals.

"Already now it is known that the vaccine is effective and safe on mice," says Heikki Hyöty, Professor of Virology and lead on the research. "The developing process has now taken a significant leap forward as the next phase is to study the vaccine in humans."

Three phases for the human clinical trials are currently planned. First, the vaccine's safety will be studied in a small group of adults, then the vaccine will be tested on a group of children to evaluate its safety and efficacy against enteroviruses. The third and final phase of the trials will be to evaluate if the vaccine can successfully prevent the onset of type 1 diabetes. This final phase of the trial could take up to eight years as an expanded duration will be needed to clearly ascertain if the disease has been successfully stifled.

Professor Hyöty does note that this is not a cure for existing cases of diabetes, but it is hoped that if successful it could prevent a significant number of cases from developing in the first place.