Thousands of UK children to be screened for diabetes in ground-breaking trial – iNews

Twenty thousand children aged three to 13 are to be screened for type 1 diabetes as part of a new trial that could “transform the way the condition is identified and managed” at its earliest stages.
The Early Surveillance for Autoimmune Diabetes (Elsa) study, launching on Monday for World Diabetes Day, will screen blood to identify children that are likely to develop diabetes, allowing earlier diagnosis.
Those found to be high risk could be eligible for trials of immunotherapies to prevent or delay the condition and will be given guidance on how to manage it.
Type 1 diabetes, a serious and lifelong autoimmune condition affecting up to 400,000 people in the UK, means people’s bodies can no longer make insulin to control blood sugar levels.
Rapid diagnosis of type 1 diabetes is essential to avoid life-threatening complications, but more than a quarter of children with the condition aren’t diagnosed until they are in diabetic ketoacidosis, a potentially fatal condition that requires urgent hospital treatment.
Dr Elizabeth Robertson, director of research at Diabetes UK, which is co-funding the study, 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… reducing the risk of life-altering complications.
“Every day without type 1 diabetes counts. 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.”
Jayne and Mike Fairclough, from St Helens, have two daughters, Libby aged six and Lottie, who is two. Libby was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2019, when she was three.
Ms Fairclough explained: “When Libby was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, our world was turned upside down. Looking back all the signs were there, but we knew nothing about diabetes and never thought it would be that.
“We weren’t prepared for what was to come – diabetes took over our lives. Libby would cry with every blood test, every injection – it was really tough for all of us.
“When she was first diagnosed, I thought I’d never get my little girl back, but together we’ve learnt how to manage her diabetes and it’s just part of our lives. Now Libby has a pump and she’s thriving. There’s nothing she can’t do.”
She added: “If we had known Libby was at risk of type 1 diabetes, we might have spotted the signs sooner and been able to prepare ourselves for her diagnosis.
“Screening for type 1 diabetes could help families avoid the shock diagnosis that we went through. If our youngest daughter, Lottie is also at risk, we’d want to know. The Elsa study gives us so much hope for a better future for children who are at risk of type 1 diabetes.”
The team, led by researchers at the University of Birmingham, will assess children’s risk of type 1 diabetes through a combination of finger-prick and venous blood tests, looking for autoantibodies – tools used by the immune system to earmark insulin-producing cells for destruction.
Autoantibodies are associated with the development of type 1 diabetes, and can appear in the blood years, or sometimes decades, before people begin to experience any symptoms.
Parth Narendran, Professor of Diabetes Medicine, and Dr Lauren Quinn, Clinical Research Fellow at the University of Birmingham, said: “Screening children can reduce their risk of DKA at diagnosis around five-fold and can help them and their families settle into the type 1 diagnosis better.
“We know the value of identifying people at risk of type 1 diabetes and we have the tools to do so – now we need to understand how best to implement them in the UK.”
Dr Robertson added: “With the first immunotherapy for type 1 diabetes currently under review in the UK and the US, the era of being able to strike early to delay type 1 diabetes is within reach.
“The success of the next generation of preventative type 1 diabetes treatments depends on reaching as many people as possible who could benefit, and this can only be achieved through screening programmes.”
All rights reserved. © 2021 Associated Newspapers Limited.

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