Trial will spot children at high risk of Type 1 Diabetes

Thousands of youngsters will soon undergo blood tests for a major study that aims to revolutionise care by predicting their risk of the condition. If those vulnerable can be identified, it will open the door for them to join trials of drugs to delay the development of diabetes.

They could also be closely monitored for early signs of illness to prevent distressing hospital admissions.

Around 35,000 children and teens suffer from diabetes in the UK – and 96 per cent have Type 1.

A quarter are not diagnosed until they are rushed to hospital with
serious complications. Diabetic ketoacidosis is a potentially deadly condition which occurs when the body starts to run out of insulin.

The ELSA study is launched today to mark World Diabetes Day.

And it will be the first UK trial to look into whether there should be a national screening programme.

Birmingham University researchers seek more than 20,000 children aged three to 13 to join the project.

Dr Lauren Quinn, a clinical research fellow, said: “If we identify a child at risk of Type 1 diabetes, we can inform and educate the family so they’re better prepared.

“We can also track progression towards Type 1 diabetes. We can stop the child becoming too unwell, we can get them on the treatment they need sooner and we can hopefully avoid a hospital admission.”

There are no licensed treatments to prevent the condition but promising drugs are in the pipeline. One, teplizumab, has been shown to delay onset by an average of three years. It is being assessed by medicine regulators in both the UK and the US.

Dr Quinn said: “That means three years without that child needing insulin so this is the most promising treatment we have. If preventative treatments come through, that makes screening even more important.”

Researchers will assess risk with blood tests which look for markers in the blood called autoantibodies.

These are used by the immune system to earmark insulin-producing cells for destruction. They can appear in the blood years, or even decades, before symptoms. Children with two or more autoantibodies have an 85 per cent chance of developing Type 1 diabetes within 15 years.

Recruitment for the study, funded by Diabetes UK and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, will run until February 2025, with results expected later that year.

Study brings hope to Libby, 6

Libby Fairclough’s life was turned upside down when she was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes aged just three.

Parents Jayne and Mike were blindsided by the news in 2019.

“It took over our lives,” Jayne said. “Libby would cry with every blood test, every injection – it was really tough.

“When she was first diagnosed, I thought I’d never get my little girl back, but together we’ve learned how to manage her condition.”

Jayne, from St Helens, Merseyside, who also has a two-year-old daughter, Lottie, added: “The ELSA study gives us so much hope for a better future for children who are at risk of Type 1 diabetes.”

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