For years, it’s been understood that before people with type 1 diabetes develop any initial symptoms — such as frequent urination, thirst, and lower energy levels — there are signs of the disease in the blood. When your immune system mistakenly attacks your pancreas, it generally takes years before your pancreatic beta cells are damaged or reduced enough to significantly decrease insulin production.
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One telltale sign of your immune system’s attack on your pancreas is autoantibodies — proteins in your bloodstream that target insulin-producing cells. Until now, blood tests for autoantibodies have been recommended or offered only to people with a family history of diabetes, or a strong suspicion that their risk of developing type 1 is higher than average. But now, for the first time, a leading diabetes research organization is offering tests to the general public.
First mass screening program for type 1 diabetes
JDRF, the leading type 1 diabetes research and advocacy organization, has launched a new program called T1Detect, which is open to the general public. As the T1Detect page notes, right now, most people with type 1 diabetes develop symptoms without warning, and as many as 85% of people who develop type 1 have no family history of the condition. Until now, though, autoantibody tests for type 1 have mostly been offered to people based on their family history or genetic tests showing a higher risk of developing the condition.
In partnership with biopharmaceutical company Prevention Bio, JDRF is offering a sign-up page to get a test kit sent to your home. The full price of the kit is $55, with a subsidized kit available to people who can’t afford this full cost. To complete the test, you’ll need to prick your finger and provide a series of small blood samples according to the provided instructions, then mail it back to the lab for analysis.
“T1Detect is the first and only screening program that will enable a broad population to know their risk of T1D,” says JDRF president and CEO Aaron J. Kowalski in a press release from the group. “It will increase awareness about early-stage T1D, provide access to crucial education and support for those at risk, and pave the way to ensuring that T1D screening becomes part of universal, clinical preventive services.”
Screening can help prevent early type 1 complications
As Kowalski notes, one advantage to finding out early if you’re likely to develop type 1 diabetes is the potential for education — learning about what it means to live with type 1, and preparing ahead of time for these changes. But screening can offer much more than peace of mind or the opportunity to adjust to your eventual diagnosis. It may help you avoid diabetic ketoacidosis, a dangerous complication of high blood glucose that can land you in the hospital.
Based on the results of your autoantibody screening, you can develop a plan to monitor your blood glucose levels in cooperation with your doctor. The idea is that if your levels are elevated at some point in the future, you can then begin treatment immediately, before you’re in danger of developing diabetic ketoacidosis and needing hospitalization.
“When my mom was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes she ended up in a coma,” notes Jorge Aguilar, a T1Detect participant, on the JDRF website. “I want to get screened to see if my risk is higher, so I can prepare and avoid a scary situation like what my mom went through.”
Possible therapies to delay type 1 diabetes onset
Right now, there aren’t any approved therapies to delay the onset of type 1 diabetes in people who have autoantibodies for the condition. But clinical trials have shown that potential therapies may delay the onset of type 1 for as long as three years in this population, so it’s possible that an approved preventive therapy will be available soon. You may also be able to enroll in a clinical trial to help get a preventive therapy approved and widely available.
All of the potential benefits of getting screened for type 1 autoantibodies — including early diabetes education, avoiding hospitalization, and possible preventive therapies — are explained to T1Detect participants as part of registration and getting their results. This makes the program much more than a test sign-up page. (Due to state regulations, testing kits are currently not available to be distributed in Maryland, New York or Pennsylvania.)
For more information or to order an autoantibody test, visit the T1Detect web page from JDRF.