In a pioneering work, the British scientists are testing a drug that could stop children from developing diabetes. This could help to keep the disease at bay in future by giving the drug to youngsters after screening for vulnerability at school. It would be a ‘step closer to a world without diabetes’.
Diabetes in children also referred to as Type 1 Diabetes or juvenile-onset diabetes is an autoimmune disease. It is caused when the immune system attacks the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas and destroys them. Pancreas produces little or no insulin. It most commonly starts in people below the age of 20. But it may occur at any age. The exact cause is not known but genetics may play a role and it can be triggered by certain infections.Unlike Type 2 diabetes, it is not linked to obesity and unhealthy diet.
Type 1 diabetics need to be on multiple injections of insulin every day and can have severe complications in later on in life. A trial is under way at King’s College London and Cardiff University to develop the new drug. By boosting numbers of a second, protective type of immune cell the drug aims to bring the immune system back under control.
‘With prevention there is everything to play for,’ said King’s researcher Mark Peakman. 24 diabetics will be given vaccination-type injections every two weeks for six months during the trial. The safety and efficacy of the drug were established in an earlier trial. The drug had produced ‘encouraging’ changes in the immune system. However, it may take five to ten years for widespread use of the treatment as more research is needed. The drug is not expected to be of help to those who have had the condition for years and to sufferers of Type 2 diabetes.
‘We are facing something of an epidemic of Type 1 diabetes. Once you have it as a child, you have got it for life and it leads to complications and obviously it is not a very nice thing to live with,’ Professor Peakman of Cardiff University said. He is collaborating with Colin Dayan. More volunteers between 18 and 40 and recently been diagnosed with the condition are needed for the trial, he added.
Sarah Johnson, of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, which is part funding the study, said that if this drug works, it would mean that there will be a future generation for whom Type 1 diabetes is no longer a risk. But she warned that it is early days and it’s not something that is going to happen tomorrow. Understanding how to prevent the condition will aid the search for a cure for those who already have it, she added.