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Researchers are optimistic about the development of a test that provides early warning of the development of Type 1 diabetes in babies and young children.

Type 1 diabetes occurs when the pancreas does not make enough insulin for normal cell function.  While Type 1 diabetes can occur at any age, it often becomes apparent in young or middle childhood.

Type 1 diabetes is different from Type 2 diabetes in that individuals who have Type 1 diabetes simply do not have enough insulin, whereas Type 2 patients do not respond efficiently to the insulin their bodies do produce.  About five to ten percent of those who have diabetes suffer from Type 1 diabetes.

Either condition can lead to dangerously high blood sugar.  In children, as in adults, diabetes of either type can cause ketoacidosis, an overload of blood acids called “ketones.”  Part of the drive behind the current research published in the journal Nature was to develop an effective newborn test for Type 1 diabetes is to avoid ketoacidosis, a severe complication of diabetes and sometimes the first event that signals to parents that their child is suffering from Type 1 diabetes.

For parents and child, the development of Type 1 diabetes can be frightening if earlier, mild symptoms of the condition are not recognized by a primary care physician.

Notes lead author, Dr Lauric Ferrat, “At the moment, 40 percent of children who are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes have the severe complication of ketoacidosis. For the very young this is life-threatening, resulting in long intensive hospitalizations and in some cases, even paralysis or death.”

Using data from the Environmental Determinants of Diabetes in the Young Study (TEDDY), researchers at seven international sites followed 7,798 children between the ages of one and nine years who were at high risk of developing Type 1 diabetes.  Scientists were able to combine factors to create a scoring test that significantly improves accurate prediction of which babies might be at risk of developing Type 1 diabetes.  Factors figured into the score include:

  • Family history
  • Genetics
  • Presence of specific biomarkers associated with Type 1 diabetes

Another researcher, Dr. William Hagopian remarked, “We’re really excited by these findings. They suggest that the routine heel prick testing of babies done at birth, could go a long way towards preventing early sickness as well as predicting which children will get type 1 diabetes years later.”

The next step is to begin a trial of the new test in Washington State. If successful, the new test could take some of the guesswork out of the diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes and help children and their parents understand the condition before it becomes a medical emergency.

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