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June 7, 2004

New study to explore risk factors for type 1 diabetes

TORONTO - Researchers at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) are recruiting patients for a new natural history study (Type 1 Diabetes TrialNet) that will probe the risk factors and biological events leading to type 1 diabetes. SickKids is the only Canadian centre participating in this National Institutes of Health study that involves 18 centres in the United States, Europe, and Australia.

“In the last 10 years, we’ve made great strides in predicting who is at greatest risk for type 1 diabetes by studying the genetic and immune markers for this disease,” said Dr. Diane Wherrett, a SickKids endocrinologist and principal investigator of Type 1 Diabetes TrialNet at The Hospital for Sick Children. “In this study, we hope to deepen our understanding of why the immune system targets and destroys the beta cells. With this knowledge, we hope to develop ways to safely prevent type 1 diabetes and to preserve the beta cells of people who’ve recently been diagnosed with the disease.”

Type 1 diabetes, also known as juvenile onset diabetes, develops when the body’s immune system mistakenly destroys the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas. The hormone insulin is needed to convert glucose into energy. People with this form of diabetes need several insulin injections a day or an insulin pump to survive. However, insulin replacement is not a cure, and most people with type 1 diabetes eventually develop one or more complications of diabetes, including damage to the eyes, nerves, kidneys, and blood vessels. Type 1 diabetes accounts for five to 10 percent of all diagnosed cases of diabetes.

The research team will screen first-degree relatives ages one to 45 and second-degree relatives ages one to 20 of people with type 1 diabetes. Screening involves a simple blood test for auto-antibodies that appear in at-risk people years before diabetes develops. After enrolling in the study, participants will be closely monitored for signs of diabetes.

SickKids is one of 18 medical centres in the US, Canada, Europe, and Australia participating in Type 1 Diabetes TrialNet. SickKids is coordinating recruitment for these studies throughout Canada with affiliated sites in Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg, London, Montreal, and Halifax. TrialNet is dedicated to understanding the autoimmune process that leads to type 1 diabetes, preventing the disease, and stopping its progression in those newly diagnosed.

At diagnosis, most people with type 1 diabetes still have some of their beta cells. In time, however, the immune system destroys more of these cells, making it harder to control blood glucose. Other TrialNet studies will seek to delay or stop the immune destruction of beta cells.

Over two million Canadians have diabetes. It is the main cause of kidney failure, limb amputations, and new onset blindness in adults and is a major cause of heart disease and stroke. Type 2 diabetes, which accounts for up to 95 percent of all diabetes cases, is associated with older age, obesity, family history of diabetes, history of gestational diabetes, impaired glucose metabolism, physical inactivity, and race/ethnicity.

Type 1 Diabetes TrialNet is funded by the US National Institutes of Health. The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International and the American Diabetes Association also support this research.

For more information about the study, see www.DiabetesTrialnet.org, call 416-813-5858 or toll-free 1-866-699-1899.

The Hospital for Sick Children, affiliated with the University of Toronto, is Canada’s most research-intensive hospital and the largest centre dedicated to improving children's health in the country. Its mission is to provide the best in family-centred, compassionate care, to lead in scientific and clinical advancement, and to prepare the next generation of leaders in child health. For more information, please visit www.sickkids.ca.

For more information, please contact:
Laura Greer, Public Affairs
The Hospital for Sick Children
(416) 813-5046
laura.greer@sickkids.ca

For more information, please contact:

Public Affairs
The Hospital for Sick Children
555 University Avenue
Suite 1742, Public Affairs, First floor Atrium
Toronto, ON
M5G 1X8
Canada
Phone: 416-813-5058
Fax: 416-813-5328