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New Screening Method for Type 1 Diabetes Risk

Researchers in the Hagopian Lab of the Pacific Northwest Research Institute (PNRI) in Seattle, in partnership with researchers at the University of Exeter in the U.K., have developed a new method of screening babies and adults for future risk of Type 1 diabetes (T1D). Called the T1D GRS2, this new method will be much more effective than current methods. It takes into account detailed genetic information known to be associated with the increased chance of developing Type 1 diabetes and could make screening for Type 1 diabetes risk among all children much more affordable in public health settings.

Being able to identify who is most likely to develop Type 1 diabetes before its onset could help parents and doctors identify the condition before it becomes severe. Furthermore, this research could help scientists develop effective treatments to prevent the disease. According to the American Diabetes Association, 40,000 people are newly diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes each year in the U.S.

The Study

Bill Hagopian, MD, PhD

In a study published January 2019 in Diabetes Care, the team found that their new risk score, which uses detailed analysis of key regions of the genome, was nearly twice as efficient at identifying babies at high risk of Type 1 diabetes as existing methods, which use more simplistic measures.

To develop the test, the team analyzed genetic variation and gene interactions across the entire genome in 6,581 people with Type 1 diabetes in the Type 1 Diabetes Genetics Consortium. They compared this to 9,247 control participants. This helped them incorporate into the test all known and recently-discovered genetic elements that can indicate risk of the disease. They then conducted simulations to see how their test compared to current genetic methods of diagnosis and screening.

Co-author William Hagopian, MD, PhD, from PNRI, said, “Gathering all this genetic information together allows the test to perform better. Parents can be warned to watch for early symptoms to avoid hospitalization for life-threatening complications. Kids with the greatest future risk can get access to research trials to develop ways to delay or prevent progression to clinical diabetes.”

Current methods of early diagnosis involve measuring islet autoantibodies — proteins in the blood indicating beta cell destruction. However, monitoring autoantibodies is expensive and difficult in young children.

Senior author of the paper, Richard Oram, PhD of the University of Exeter, said, “Prediction of what diseases we might get in the future is an important area, and Type 1 diabetes has a strong genetic element that we are now able to measure very well.”

About Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes develops when the body’s own immune system attacks insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. The immune attack usually begins several years before the symptoms of Type 1 diabetes appear.

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