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Clinical trials aim to prevent high-risk babies from developing Type-1 diabetes

27th Jul 2018
Clinical trials aim to prevent high-risk babies from developing Type-1 diabetes

(Photo: Steve Cook/Flickr Creative Commons)

Researchers from Oxford University believe they have discovered a method to prevent high-risk babies from developing Type-1 diabetes.

The idea is to train infants’ immune systems by giving them powdered insulin to offer life-long protection. There is currently no way to prevent Type-1 diabetes.

The work is being led by the Global Platform for the Prevention of Autoimmune Diabetes, which was set up in 2015 with a view to investigating how to prevent Type-1 diabetes in clinical trials.

Pregnant women visiting maternity clinics in Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Milton Keynes and Oxfordshire are being asked to sign up for the trial called Investigating Genetic Risk for Type-1 Diabetes (INGR1D).

The cause of Type-1 diabetes is unknown. A number of explanatory theories have been put forward, and the cause may be one or more of the following: genetic susceptibility, a diabetogenic trigger, and exposure to an antigen. Around 400,000 people in the UK and 1.25 million Americans are living with Type-1 diabetes, which requires people to give themselves daily injections.

People with the condition have to regularly check their blood sugar levels and inject themselves with insulin to keep steady levels of glucose in their body.

Type-1 diabetes cannot be cured and can lead to complications such as blindness, kidney failure and limb amputation because of nerve damage. It also makes people much more likely to have a stroke or heart attack.
Children taking part in the trial will be given insulin powder daily from the age of about six months until they are three years old.

They will have visits from the research team to monitor the child’s health. Half of the study participants will be given the real insulin while half will get a placebo powder containing no drug. Experts say a heel prick blood test that is routinely done on newborns to spot other conditions could also detect these genes.

The scientists want to screen 30,000 babies in this way to find eligible ones for their trial. It is hoped that insulin powder can train the immune system to tolerate the body’s own insulin to prevent the onset of Type-1 diabetes. Others have been testing whether giving a different drug, called metformin, in childhood might hold off diabetes. Type-1 diabetes is a lifelong condition where the pancreas does not produce insulin, causing blood glucose levels to become too high.

Dr Matthew Snape, Chief investigator of the Oxford trial, said: “Preventing children and their families from having to live with diabetes and its threat of complications such as blindness, kidney or heart disease would be fantastic.”

Dr Elizabeth Robertson, Director of Research at Diabetes UK, said: “This is a huge endeavour, so we would encourage women living in the South East who think they might be eligible to find out more – research like this can’t happen without the incredible people who take part.”

Nadine Osman

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