Medical researchers at the Sophia Children¹s Hospital and Rotterdam Erasmus University have developed a reliable blood test to diagnose diabetes in children at an early stage. The test allows them to predict the development of the condition with a reliability of 50%. Previously juvenile diabetes could only be diagnosed early by examining family members of patiens suffering from this disease. Funding for the research was provided by the NWO¹s Council for Medical Sciences, the Netherlands Diabetes Fund and Care Research Netherlands. For this research, Dr. M. Batstra was awarded the F. Gerritzen Prize, which goes to the top Dutch researcher each year in the field of diabetes.
The researchers found that four out of five patients with juvenile diabetes have the so-called islet antibodies directed against GAD and IA2 in their blood before the condition manifests itself and that these proteins occur exclusively in cases of juvenile diabetes. The test measures the concentration of the islet antibodies in the child¹s blood. Researchers already established twenty-five years ago that juvenile diabetes could be predicted at an early stage by identifying islet antibodies, but the new test became practicable only after GAD and IA2 had been identified and could be synthesised.
The presence of the antibodies in the blood indicates that the cells which produce insulin are being broken down "unintentionally" by the immune system. The symptoms only manifest themselves when more than 80% of the insulin cells have already been destroyed by the immune system. By that time, the process of cell breakdown as a result of juvenile diabetes or type 1 diabetes has already been taking place for a number of years.
In addition to identifying the antibodies, the researchers use a DNA test to determine hereditary susceptibility to juvenile diabetes. By combining the DNA test and the antibody test, it is possible to determine with an accuracy of more than 50% whether a child belongs to the approximately 0.5% of the population who may develop juvenile diabetes. If only a DNA test were to be used, the accuracy rate would only be 1%. The new test makes it easier to study the process of juvenile diabetes development and to identify people in possible need of preventive treatment in later years.
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