In a dramatic illustration of the potential for microbes to prevent disease, researchers have shown that mice exposed to common stomach bacteria are protected against the development of type 1 diabetes.
The findings support the “hygiene hypothesis” — the theory that a lack of exposure to parasites, bacteria and viruses in the developed world may lead to increased risk of diseases like allergies, asthma, and other disorders of the immune system.
The results also suggest that exposure to some forms of bacteria might actually help prevent onset of type 1 diabetes, which is an autoimmune disease. In Type I diabetes, the patient’s immune system launches an attack on cells in the pancreas that produce insulin.
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