New early epigenetic predictors of type 1 diabetes in susceptible children


    The incidence of type 1 diabetes is record high in Finland. Previous studies have shown that appearance of type 1 diabetes associated autoantibodies indicates an increased likelihood to develop the disease. However, to be able to effectively intervene in the disease process, even earlier biomarkers are needed.

    Two fresh studies led by Turku Bioscience Centre scientists using cutting-edge genomics and computational methods discovered early epigenetic changes in immune cells, already before the appearance of type 1 diabetes associated autoantibodies.

    “Our results reveal previously unknown early epigenetic changes and offer new opportunities to identify children predisposed to developing type 1 diabetes,” says professor Riitta Lahesmaa. Professor Laura Elo continues: “Our goal is to develop tools and means that would enable prevention of type 1 diabetes.”

    Epigenetic changes modify DNA without changing its nucleotide sequence. Non-coding RNAs are also epigenetic factors as they can regulate gene function. It is known that in addition to genetic predisposition, environmental factors play an important role in development of type 1 diabetes. Environmental factors such as virus infections can trigger these epigenetic changes.

    These results are based on a long-term cross-disciplinary international collaboration between clinicians, experts in molecular medicine, immunology and computational scientists. ”Our study was enabled through a fruitful collaboration with Professor Mikael Knip, who was responsible for this exceptional EU-funded program. He is also a key principal investigator in the national DIPP-cohort, a collaborator in one of the studies.” says professor Lahesmaa.

    The study was funded by the Academy of Finland, JDRF, European Union, Business FInland and Novo Nordisk and InFLAMES Flagship Programme.

    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

    Further information: Riitta Lahesmaa, riitta.lahesmaa (at), phone +358  (0)40 718 4813