The scientists headed by Prof. Dr. Anette-Gabriele Ziegler, Director of the Institute of Diabetes Research (IDF) at Helmholtz Zentrum München, examined anonymized data from almost 300,000 children born in Bavaria between 2005 and 2007. This represents roughly 85 percent of all newborns in Bavaria during this period. The Kassenärztliche Vereinigung Bayern (KVB – Bavarian Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians) provided the data material for research purposes.
Ziegler’s team, which is also a partner in the German Center for Diabetes Research (DZD), systematically evaluated all available data on infections with respect to the later development of type 1 diabetes. The infections were broken down according to the localization of the symptoms (such as dermal, eye, gastrointestinal or respiratory infections), the causes (bacterial, viral or mycoses) and the age (quarter-yearly from birth).
First author Dr. Andreas Beyerlein summarizes the results as follows: „Our findings show that viral respiratory tract disorders during the first six months of life significantly increase the risk of children developing type 1 diabetes.“ Infections that occurred later or that involved other organs were not associated with a significantly higher risk. For the researchers, these findings are a further piece in the puzzle of understanding how type 1 diabetes develops, with the interaction of genetic and environmental factors still largely unclear.
Previously there were only relatively inconsistent indications from studies with children with a genetically higher risk of type 1 diabetes regarding the influence of infections. „Now for the first time we were able to confirm this in a population-based dataset of almost 300,000 children. In particular, we found strong indications that the first six months are an especially sensitive stage in life,“ explains lead scientist Ziegler. „This is also consistent with other results that we have published based on data from children with increased familial risk, which already suggested that the first half year of life is crucial for the development of the immune system and of autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes.”
In the future the scientists want to determine whether there is actually a causal relationship and if yes, exactly which pathogens are involved and how they trigger this effect. This could then serve as a basis for attempting to develop an appropriate vaccine.
The results are based on a paper published 2013 in JAMA pediatrics . Please find the respective press release here .
Beyerlein, A. et al. (2016). Infections in early life and development of type 1 diabetes, JAMA, doi: 10.1001/jama.2016. 2181
The Helmholtz Zentrum München, the German Research Center for Environmental Health, pursues the goal of developing personalized medical approaches to the prevention and therapy of major common diseases such as diabetes and lung disease. To achieve this, it investigates the interaction of genetics, environmental factors and lifestyle. The Helmholtz Zentrum München has about 2,300 staff members and is headquartered in Neuherberg in the north of Munich. It is a member of the Helmholtz Association, a community of 18 scientific-technical and medical-biological research centers with a total of about 37,000 staff members. The Helmholtz Zentrum München is a partner in the German Center for Diabetes Research.
The Institute of Diabetes Research (IDF) focuses on the pathogenesis and prevention of type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes as a long-term effect of gestational diabetes. A top-priority project is the development of an insulin vaccination against type 1 diabetes. In large-scale, long-term studies the IDF examines the implication of genes, environmental factors and the immune system in the pathogenesis of type 1 diabetes. Using data from the BABYDIAB cohort, which was established in 1989 as the world’s first prospective diabetes birth cohort, risk genes and antibody profiles can both be identified. This allows predictions about the development and onset of type 1 diabetes and will change the classification and the time of diagnosis. The IDF is part of the Helmholtz Diabetes Center (HDC).
The German Center for Diabetes Research (DZD) is one of six German Centers of Health Research. It brings together experts in the field of diabetes research and combines basic research, epidemiology and clinical applications. By adopting an innovative, integrative approach to research, the DZD aims to make a substantial contribution to the successful, personalized prevention, diagnosis and treatment of diabetes mellitus. The members of the association are the Helmholtz Zentrum München – the German Research Center for Environmental Health, the German Diabetes Center (DDZ) in Düsseldorf, the German Institute of Nutrition (DifE) in Potsdam-Rehbrücke, the Institute of Diabetes Research and Metabolic Diseases (IDM) at the University of Tübingen and the Paul Langerhans Institute at the Carl Gustav Carus University Hospital in Dresden, associated partners at the universities of Cologne, Heidelberg, Leipzig, Lübeck and Munich, as well as other project partners.
Contact for the media:
Department of Communication, Helmholtz Zentrum München – German Research Center for Environmental Health (GmbH), Ingolstädter Landstr. 1, 85764 Neuherberg – Tel. +49 89 3187 2238 – Fax: +49 89 3187 3324 – E-mail:
Scientific contact at Helmholtz Zentrum München:
Prof. Dr. Anette-Gabriele Ziegler, Helmholtz Zentrum München – German Research Center for Environmental Health (GmbH), Institute of Diabetes Research, Ingolstädter Landstr. 1, 85764 Neuherberg – Tel. +49 89 3187 3405 – E-mail: