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Irish researchers make ‘significant’ diabetes finding

Hopes that discovery may lead to screening test for the most serious type of diabetes

Researchers said their discovery had the potential to contribute to the identification of biological markers that predict the development of Type 1 diabetes

Irish researchers have made a “significant” medical discovery they believe may ultimately lead to a screening test for the most serious type of diabetes.

The 3U Diabetes Consortium, composed of researchers from Dublin City University, Maynooth University and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, published the finding in the online journal Diabetic Medicine this week.

They said it had the potential to contribute to the identification of biological markers that predict the development of Type 1 diabetes, a chronic autoimmune disease.

The research showed the presence of a substance called 12-HETE in blood samples provided by newly diagnosed Type 1 diabetes patients at Connolly Hospital Blanchardstown and the Children’s University Hospital Temple Street.

This substance was not found in patient samples where the condition was already established, the researchers said.

“The elevated levels of 12-HETE, detected in early-onset Type 1 diabetes patients indicates the potential of this substance, in collaboration with other factors, to act as a biomarker for the onset of the autoimmune disease,” they said on Monday.

Analysing samples

They will now turn their attention to analysing retrospective samples from patients who subsequently developed Type 1 diabetes.

“If 12-HETE is found in samples from people prior to diabetes onset, the researchers are hopeful that it can ultimately be used, in conjunction with other biomarkers, to develop a screening test for Type 1 diabetes among the general population,” the research team said.

Type 1 diabetes is caused by the body’s own immune system destroying the cells in the pancreas that make insulin, the hormone that helps the body use glucose for energy.

It usually occurs in childhood or early adulthood. It can develop extremely rapidly and requires life-long self-management of glucose monitoring, insulin injections, food intake and exercise.

The research team said early diagnosis of the condition was crucial to ensure the serious complication diabetic ketoacidosis did not develop.

Up to five children and teenagers are diagnosed each week in Ireland with Type 1 diabetes and one in 10 are affected by a late diagnosis which can result in critical illness.

Phenomenon

Prof Martin Clynes of DCU said it had been a “surprise” to the research team to discover the 12-HETE substance in people recently diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. It was not present in people with the lesser form, Type 2, or in those who had established Type 1 diagnoses.

“It could be useful as a signal that children will go on to get Type 1,” he added.

The researchers will now try to get access to data from other countries to study the phenomenon further.

The study, conducted over a period of three years and then peer reviewed, had received little in terms of core funding.

Prof Clynes said there had been some funding from the Health Research Board, but that in general the researchers had to “beg, borrow or steal” resources as they went along.

It was not as easy to get funding for diabetes research in Ireland as it was for cancer, he added.

“Diabetes is very poorly supported.”

About 226,000 people in Ireland live with diabetes, with between 14,000 and 16,000 of those having the Type 1 form. About 2,750 of those are under 16.

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