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New screening method to help identify babies at risk of diabetes

File photo dated 17/12/18 of a nurse giving a patient diabetes test. The UK is in the midst of a diabetes "crisis" and the prevalence of fried chicken shops is not helping, a leading GP has suggested. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Friday January 11, 2019. About four million British people are living with a form of diabetes. See PA story HEALTH Diabetes. Photo credit should read: Peter Byrne/PA Wire

By Rod Minchin, Press Association

A new way of screening babies and adults for future risk of type 1 diabetes will be much more effective at identifying the condition than current methods, new research has concluded.

Scientists have developed a new risk score which takes into account detailed genetic information known to increase the chances of type 1 diabetes.

This could be used to help identity babies at highest risk of developing the condition in the future.

The score may also be used at the time of diabetes diagnosis to help decide if someone has type 1 or type 2 diabetes, which need very different treatments.

Researchers at the University of Exeter and the Pacific Northwest Research Institute in Seattle found that their new risk score, the T1DGRS2, was nearly twice as efficient at identifying babies at high risk of type 1 diabetes as existing methods, which use more simplistic measures.

The study found the new test was also better at predicting type 1 diabetes in adults in the general population.

Senior author Dr Richard Oram said: "Prediction of what diseases we might get in the future is an important area, and type 1 diabetes has a strong genetic element that we are now able to measure very well.

"Measurement of the type 1 diabetes genetic risk score could help predict who will develop the condition from early life, could help with research into potential early life interventions and with classifying diabetes correctly at diagnosis."

To develop the test, the team analysed genetic variation and gene interactions across the entire genome in 6,581 people with type 1 diabetes in the type 1 Diabetes Genetics Consortium.

They compared this to 9,247 control participants, which helped them incorporate all known and recently-discovered genetic elements that can indicate type 1 diabetes.

They then conducted simulations to see how their test compared to current genetic methods of diagnosis and screening.

Type 1 diabetes develops when the body's own immune system attacks insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas, with the immune attack usually beginning several years before the symptoms of type 1 diabetes appear.

Being able to identify who's will develop type 1 diabetes before its onset could help parents and doctors identify the condition before it becomes severe.

It could also help the development of effective treatments to prevent type 1 diabetes.

Current methods of early diagnosis involve measuring of islet autoantibodies-proteins in the blood indicating beta cell destruction.

However, monitoring autoantibodies is expensive and difficult in young children.

The Exeter team recently discovered that half of all cases of Type 1 diabetes develop in adulthood and can often be misdiagnosed.

But the new risk score can help distinguish between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, helping healthcare professionals to make the right diagnosis.

The paper, Development and Standardization of an Improved Type 1 Diabetes Genetic Risk Score for Use in Newborn Screening and Incident Diagnosis, is published in the journal Diabetes Care.

The research was funded by Diabetes UK.