New ImmunDiabRisk Study: Does Diabetes in Children Develop Already During Pregnancy?


Participants are being sought for a new ImmunDiabRisk study by the Diabetes research group of Technische Universität München and the Institute for Diabetes Research, Helmholtz Zentrum München, a partner in the DZD.

Eligible participants should either be pregnant women who have type 1 diabetes, pregnant women whose partner has type 1 diabetes, or pregnant women who already have a child with type 1 diabetes. Professor Anette-Gabriele Ziegler, MD, is the leader of the study.

When small children become ill with diabetes, the underlying cause is usually an autoimmune disease: type 1 diabetes. Scientists estimate that in Europe in 2020, the number of new cases in the under five year old age group will have doubled in comparison to 2005. A new study aims to determine why the number of small children with type 1 diabetes is increasing. It will also clarify why children of mothers with type 1 diabetes are less often affected by the disease than children of fathers with type 1 diabetes. The findings shall be used to develop a long-term therapy, in order to prevent the development of autoimmunity.

Increased risk of secondary diseases
Type 1 diabetes (“juvenile” or “insulin-dependent” diabetes) can occur already in the first years of a child’s life. The body’s immune system attacks the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas and destroys them. Thus, the body lacks the hormone insulin which is needed to convert sugar from food into energy. Children with diabetes must therefore give themselves insulin injections several times a day throughout their entire lives. Children who become ill at a young age have a particularly high risk of suffering long-term consequences such as damage to the eyes and kidneys, due to the long duration of the disease.

Epidemiological studies show a dramatic rise in new cases, especially in young children. In 2005 the number of new cases in children and adolescents in Europe was estimated to be 15000. In 2020 this number is expected to increase to 24000 new cases. Moreover, scientists anticipate that the number of new cases in children under five years will double.

Children of mothers with diabetes have some protection
The causes of type 1 diabetes are unknown; however, certain variations in the genome are considered risk factors. Children whose parents or siblings have diabetes have an average risk of 5 percent of developing diabetes, compared with a risk of 0.3 percent in the general population. Interestingly, the disease risk for the child of an affected father or a child who has a sibling with diabetes is significantly higher –twice or three times higher, depending on the study – in comparison to the disease risk if the mother has been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Furthermore, diabetes-specific autoantibodies as “harbingers” of the disease are detected more frequently in children whose fathers have type 1 diabetes.

Why mothers with diabetes give their children some protection against the disease remains an enigma. It is thought that the fetal immune system develops differently already in the womb and that these children are thus protected from developing autoimmune diseases. The exact mechanisms that lead to this protection could be the key to understanding the development of autoimmunity in the first years of life. With this knowledge, strategies shall be developed to prevent the development of autoimmunity.

Women who participate in the ImmunDiabRisk study will receive excellent medical care during pregnancy with two free ultrasound exams in a renowned Munich prenatal practice. During the pregnancy and in the child’s first two years, additional ultrasound exams and blood tests will be conducted.
Interested families or physicians who would like to support the study are requested to contact

Forschergruppe Diabetes der Technischen Universität München
Univ.-Prof. Dr. med. Anette-Gabriele Ziegler
Lehrstuhl Diabetes und Gestationsdiabetes
Kölner Platz 1, 80804 München
free phone 0800 8284868,