Mikael Knip

Towards the prevention of type 1 diabetes

Mikael Knip HUS

Professor Mikael Knip’s PEDIA research group studies type 1 diabetes in children and adolescents and other immune-mediated diseases such as celiac disease and allergies. Why is diabetes so common in Finland? Is it possible to prevent the development of immune-mediated diseases?

The research group is currently particularly interested in the intestinal microbiota, i.e. the importance of intestinal bacteria, viruses and fungi in the development of immune-mediated diseases. According to the group’s hypothesis, the intestinal microbiota has a two-stage effect on the development of type 1 diabetes.

– At first, a weak immune system exposes children to immune-mediated diseases in infancy. At the second stage, the dysbiosis of the intestinal microbiota and the lack of diversity of these bacteria in toddlers lead to the progression of the disease from an asymptomatic initial stage to clinical symptoms and diagnosis, Knip explains.

The other current goal of the research group is to determine the heterogeneity of type 1 diabetes. The group has found out that there are more than just one phenotype or endotype of type 1 diabetes. 

Prevention of immune-mediated diseases

The objective of studying immune-mediated diseases is to find ways of effectively preventing the onset of these diseases.

The long-term objective is to develop safe and effective methods for the prevention of diabetes and to learn about the effects of intestinal microbiota on pediatric health.

Effective prevention of type 1 diabetes would significantly reduce its prevalence in the Finnish pediatric population and thus improve the quality of life for children and their families. The research group also participates in a study aimed at developing a coxsackievirus vaccine that prevents diabetes. In the best-case scenario, such a vaccine could be in common use in approximately 5 years’ time.

The PEDIA research group was created in 2000 after Mikael Knip became Professor of Pediatrics at Helsinki. Before this, Knip closely cooperated with Professor Hans Åkerblom and his research group.

The research group includes approximately 30 members with medical, genetic, epidemiological, immunological and nutritional competencies as well as competencies in nursing science.

The group has collaborated with Professor Ramnik Xavier from Boston and his research group which is active at the Broad Institute. Dr. Xavier is an expert in gastroenterology and molecular biology.

– We successfully combined unique clinical research material (DIABIMMUNE) and cutting-edge methods for studying intestinal microbiota and for analyzing the results by means of bioinformatics, Mikael Knip says.

Contact details:
Mikael Knip
Helsinki University Hospital Children and Adolescents