Mounting clues suggest the coronavirus might trigger diabetes
In mid-April, Finn Gnadt, an 18-year-old student from Kiel, Germany, learnt that he had been infected with the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus despite feeling well. Gnadt’s parents had fallen ill after a river cruise in Austria, so his family was tested for virus antibodies, which are produced in response to infection.
Gnadt thought he had endured the infection unscathed, but days later, he started to feel worn out and exceedingly thirsty. In early May, he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, and his physician, Tim Hollstein at the University Hospital Schleswig-Holstein in Kiel, suggested that the sudden onset might be linked to the viral infection.
In most people with type 1 diabetes, the body’s immune cells start destroying β-cells — which are responsible for producing the hormone insulin — in the pancreas, often suddenly. In Gnadt’s case, Hollstein suspected that the virus had destroyed his β-cells, because his blood didn’t contain the types of immune cells that typically damage the pancreatic islets where the β-cells live.