Children to be screened for diabetes risk in UK early detection trial – The Guardian

Study beginning on Monday will assess the risk of type 1 diabetes in 20,000 children aged three to 13
Scientists are launching a trial screening programme for type 1 diabetes in the UK to detect the disease earlier and reduce the risk of life-changing complications.
About 20,000 children aged between three and 13 are being invited to take part in the Early Surveillance for Autoimmune Diabetes (Elsa) study, with recruitment opening on Monday.
The aim is to assess children’s risk of developing type 1 diabetes at the earliest stage possible to ensure a quick and safe diagnosis, and reduce the number being diagnosed when they are already seriously ill.
Parth Narendran, a professor of diabetes medicine at the University of Birmingham, said: “As general population screening programmes for type 1 diabetes emerge around the world, we need to explore how best to screen children here in the UK.”
He added: “We hope Elsa will lead to the rollout of a type 1 diabetes early detection programme for children in the UK and encourage families with children at a suitable age to consider taking part.”
Up to 400,000 people in the UK are thought to have type 1 diabetes, which is a lifelong autoimmune condition.
It is caused by the immune system mistakenly attacking cells in the pancreas that produce the hormone insulin, which in turn, causes blood sugar levels to rise – often resulting in life-threatening complications.
More than a quarter of children in the UK are not diagnosed with type 1 diabetes until they are in diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) – a serious problem that requires urgent hospital treatment.
Led by experts at the University of Birmingham, scientists will use blood tests to assess children’s risk of developing type 1 diabetes.
These tests will look for markers known as autoantibodies – which the immune system uses to earmark insulin-producing cells for destruction. Autoantibodies can appear in the blood years before people begin to experience any symptoms of type 1 diabetes.
Experts say monitoring for autoantibodies reduces the risk of being diagnosed while in DKA.
At present, type 1 diabetes is managed by administering insulin, but there are new treatments that target the immune system in the works that could prevent or delay the condition.
Children found to be at high risk during the screening programme could be invited to take part in research testing these treatments, the scientists said.
Children and their families would be offered support and education to help prepare them for the diagnosis of type 1 diabetes, the experts added.
Dr Elizabeth Robertson, the director of research at Diabetes UK, which is co-funding the study with the not-for-profit organisation JDRF, said: “Identifying children at high risk of type 1 diabetes could put them and their families on the front foot, helping ensure a safe and soft landing into an eventual diagnosis, avoiding DKA and reducing the risk of life-altering complications.”
She added: “Extra years without the condition means a childhood no longer lived on a knife-edge of blood sugar checks and insulin injections, free from the relentlessness and emotional burden of type 1 diabetes.”

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