It’s well known that type 1 diabetes (T1D) tends to occur early in life — usually in the teen years, but often earlier. But how early? A new study has reported that it might be possible to predict a child’s potential development of T1D as early as three months old.
For the JDRF-funded study, the researchers, who were from Denmark, Sweden and Finland, enrolled 120 Finnish children and took regular blood samples from them from birth to age three. The researchers then followed up the children until they were 15. They were especially interested in testing the children for metabolites, which are small molecules that the body produces after digesting food and that perform a variety of functions.
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When the children reached 15, the researchers classified them into one of three groups: 1) those who developed T1D, 2) those who didn’t develop T1D but tested positive for a specific antibody and 3) those who didn’t develop T1D and didn’t test positive for the antibody. They also tested for metabolites and compared the metabolite levels among the three groups.
As early as three months old, the children who went on to develop T1D showed significantly higher levels of a metabolite called methionine than the children in the other two groups. As the researchers put it, “Our study identified specific metabolic disturbances in children who progressed to T1D, as compared to their age-matched controls.” They went on to say, “Our findings suggest that children who progress to type 1 diabetes have a unique metabolic profile.”
The implications of the report could be substantial. If testing infants for metabolites can reliably predict that a child is liable to develop T1D, intervention and treatments can be initiated much earlier than has ever been possible before.
A freelance writer and editor based in the Chicago area, Gustaitis has a degree in journalism from Columbia University.