Berlin – Type 1 diabetes is the most common metabolic disease in children and adolescents. Around 24 000 boys and girls living in Germany have been diagnosed with the disease. The incidence of type 1 diabetes is steadily rising, and very young children are increasingly affected. How our youngest children with high incidence risk can be identified early on and treated preventively was the topic of a talk given by Professor Anette-Gabriele Ziegler of Helmholtz Zentrum München at the 5th Autumn Meeting of the German Diabetes Society in Berlin. Helmholtz Zentrum München is a partner in the German Center for Diabetes Research.
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease: the body’s own immune cells destroy cells in the pancreas that produce the vital hormone insulin. To date, researchers have not yet been able to fully elucidate the causes of the disease. However, some boys and girls apparently have a particularly high risk of developing type 1 diabetes.
In order to develop effective early treatments for these children, scientists at the Institute of Diabetes Research at Helmholtz Zentrum München perform a three-stage diagnostic procedure: Already at the time of birth they examine the genetic makeup of the children. “An umbilical cord blood specimen can be taken without any complications. Even this early in the life of the child it provides information about the presence of high risk genes,” said Institute Director Professor Anette-Gabriele Ziegler. In addition, the doctors ask whether there are or have been other cases of diabetes in the family. In a third step, when the children are two years old, the scientists determine whether there are any antibodies present in the blood against the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas. “In a majority of the children who develop diabetes this is the case,” Professor Ziegler explained. “Within the first two years of life islet autoantibodies develop that indicate an autoimmune reaction against the body’s own beta cells.” Based on these results, the scientists can assess how high the risk is for a child to develop type 1 diabetes.
New therapy concepts are currently being developed to protect high-risk children from the actual onset of the disease. For instance, the aim of the Primary Oral Insulin Trial (abbreviated Pre-Point) is to prevent the outbreak of the disease through the daily administration of insulin powder. The Intranasal Insulin Trial (INIT II) seeks – in this case administered through the nose – to counteract the outbreak of the disease. In children who have already developed type 1 diabetes, participation in the intervention study “CORDY“ (Cord Blood Study) shall facilitate the adjustment of the blood glucose level. The young study participants receive a one-time transfusion of their own umbilical cord blood.