The American Diabetes Association estimates there are over 3 million Americans living with type 1 diabetes, while Diabetes UK says that are about 300,000 in the UK. There is currently no cure for diabetes type 1, which unlike type 2 is not preventable. It can be fatal unless the patient regularly takes exogenous insulin.
The study involved analyzing blood samples taken from children to identify any preclinical clues that indicate any increased risk of type 1 diabetes.
Two diabetes-related autoantibodies were found to be the strongest indicators of diabetes risk. The authors said that type 1 diabetes usually has a "preclinical phase that can be identified by the presence of autoantibodies to antigens of the pancreatic beta cells."
Data gathered from three different studies, which included a total of 13377 children, were used in the analysis.
At the 10-year follow-up, an overwhelming 70 percent of the children with multiple islet autoantibodies developed type 1 diabetes, compared to 15 percent among those with just one autoantibody.
Jay S. Skyler, M.D., and Jay M. Sosenko, M.D., of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, said in an accompanying editorial: "If you have two or more autoantibodies, it's nearly inevitable that you will develop the disease. Most people - even physicians - don't appreciate this risk."
Type 1 diabetes can occur at any age (onset typically occurs at an earlier age than Type 2), it starts with the immune system destroying insulin-producing beta cells. This eventually stops the production of insulin - without insulin the body cannot control blood sugar or glucose, which can cause serious damage to organs. Cells need glucose in order to survive, glucose needs insulin in order to enter cells. Without insulin, glucose cannot enter cells and they starve.
People with type 1 diabetes need to take insulin injections for the rest of their lives.
The children in the study had a particular genotype indicating a genetic predisposition to type 1 diabetes.
Eight percent of the children had one or more of the autoantibodies - indicators for the destruction of insulin - at follow-up.
585 children had at least two autoantibodies and 474 were found to have just one.
Nearly half of the children with two or more autoantibodies went on to develop diabetes within five years, and 4 out of every 5 of them became diabetic within fifteen years.
Only 14.5 percent of children with just one autoantibody developed type 1 diabetes after 10 years.
In addition, children with more than one autoantibody before the age of 3 years were at a considerably greater risk of developing type 1 diabetes.
Skylar believes their findings will help researchers select participants for studies which focus on delaying or preventing type 1 diabetes.
The authors concluded:
"These data show that the detection of multiple islet autoantibodies in children who are genetically at risk marks a preclinical stage of type 1 diabetes. Thus, the development of multiple islet autoantibodies in children predicts type 1 diabetes.Future prevention studies should focus on this high-risk population."
Development of a Type 1 diabetes vaccineDiabetes UK have announced the biggest research program in the charity's history to try and develop a new vaccine for Type 1 diabetes within the next two decades, an accomplishment which could transform and improve the lives of the millions of people at high risk.
Dr Alasdair Rankin, Director of Research at Diabetes UK, talks about research into a vaccine for Type 1 diabetes:
Kalorama Information also published a report that said a vaccine for diabetes could be available in the not-too-distant future.
A type 1 diabetes vaccine would be the biggest breakthrough in diabetes research since insulin was first used to treat the disease nearly a century ago.
In addition, researchers in Australia have identified stem cells in the pancreas that can be turned into insulin-producing cells, which could do away with daily injections.
Written by Joseph Nordqvist