In a huge step forward for research into the prevention of T1D, JDRF yesterday announced that Dr Kirstine Bell will lead a pilot study to screen children for early signs of T1D. This study will be the first in Australia – and one of only three in the world – to screen people from the general population, without a family history of T1D.
While T1D is traditionally diagnosed after physical symptoms have begun, the new study will look for islet autoantibodies – chemical markers in the blood that indicate a person is likely to develop T1D, even though they may not have any symptoms.
Diagnosing T1D at this stage can significantly reduce the risk of diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) – a similar study in Germany showed a rate of DKA of less than 5%, compared with the usual rate of 20%. In Australia, DKA is experienced by almost one third of children with newly diagnosed T1D.
In addition to preventing DKA, people with autoantibodies can start monitoring early, and potentially enrol in clinical trials for new therapies that can delay or prevent the onset of T1D.
The study will be funded by JDRF Australia through its Type 1 Diabetes Clinical Research Network (T1DCRN).
“JDRF are delighted to appoint Kirstine to lead this project,” says Dr Dorota Pawlak, Chief Scientific Officer of JDRF and Director of the T1DCRN. “She has the expertise, nous and drive to lead what is both an incredibly important, and incredibly exciting project for us.”
Dr Bell is a Credentialled Diabetes Educator and an NHMRC Early Career Fellow at the Charles Perkins Centre, University of Sydney. In 2017, she was invited to be part of the Future Leaders Program run by JDRF Australia and the Macquarie Group Foundation – a series of workshops for early career researchers with strong leadership potential.
If the pilot study is successful, researchers hope to expand to a national screening program – where all children are tested for islet autoantibodies once they reach a certain age.
Want to know more about how a screening program for T1D could work? Read our article here.