The team, led by Professor David Dunger from the University of Cambridge, discovered that raised levels of a protein called albumin in the urine were linked to a higher risk of these diseases among adolescents with type 1 diabetes.
Albumin is a protein that is normally found in the blood, and only seen in low levels in the urine, so high levels can be a sign that the kidneys are not working as they should. Above a certain level, the condition is called albuminuria, which is already known to be a risk factor for heart and kidney disease.
However, Dunger’s team found that for young people with type 1 diabetes, even high levels within the ‘normal’ range (those in the top 30 per cent of cases) were likely to be associated with early signs of these diseases. These included artery stiffening, and abnormal blood cholesterol levels and kidney function.
This means that screening for albumin in the urine – and at lower levels than previously considered undesirable – could allow young people to access treatment much earlier.
According to Dunger, ‘The next step will be to see if drugs used to treat heart and kidney disease – such as statins and blood pressure lowering drugs – can help prevent kidney and heart complications in this young, potentially vulnerable population.’
The research, published in the journal Diabetes Care, forms part of AdDIT (Adolescent Type 1 Diabetes Cardio-Renal Intervention Trial), a worldwide study looking at preventing young people with type 1 diabetes from developing heart and kidney disease.