New test could predict type 1 diabetes in children as young as three months old

Posted on 03 September 2019

A baby and their young sibling

A recent JDRF-funded study has found that children who go on to develop type 1 diabetes have altered levels of certain molecules which are detectable in the blood as early as three months old. Scientists hope that these molecules could form an early predictive test for type 1 development so that we may be able to better treat or even prevent type 1 from ever developing.

Why did they do this research?

Incidences of type 1 are rising by around 4% a year in the developed world – and roughly half are diagnosed in childhood. To stop this trend, it is crucial that we improve ways to predict type 1 development. Currently, the presence of two autoantibodies – parts of the immune system that mistakenly attacks beta cells in type 1 – is used as a predictive test, however it is rare to detect autoantibodies in children under six months of age.

What did they do?

Scientists from institutions across Denmark, Finland and Sweden recruited 120 Finnish children and took blood samples at regular intervals from birth up until age three. They then monitored the children until age fifteen and grouped them based on whether they developed type 1, tested positive for an autoantibody but didn’t develop type 1 or tested negative for any autoantibodies and didn’t develop type 1.

The team tested the blood for small molecules called metabolites which are made following food digestion or used in biological processes. They then compared the levels of these metabolites between the different groups to see if there were any patterns.

What did they find?

At just three months old, the children who developed type 1 had significantly different levels of some metabolites in their blood when compared to children in the other groups. There were also differences at six months old, but generally these became less pronounced as the children got older. However, the metabolite methionine was consistently high in the children that developed type 1, suggesting that these children were unable to use the metabolite properly in the body.

What does this mean for type 1?

This study shows that, as early as three months old, children that go on to develop type 1 diabetes have altered levels of metabolites in their blood compared to those that do not (by the age of fifteen). These metabolites could therefore be used to predict whether a child is likely to develop type 1 so that, in the future, treatments which aim to delay or prevent the condition can be targeted to these children.

A scientist carrying out an experiment

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