Scientists at the University of Oxford are part of a global world-first study to find out if giving insulin to babies could prevent them from developing Type 1 diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes happens when the immune system mistakenly destroys insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. Although people may not be diagnosed until later on in life, changes in the immune system that put them on track to developing Type 1 diabetes can start as young as nine months old.
Scientists want to find ways to take action before these very early changes begin, to protect against an immune attack and prevent Type 1 diabetes.
Pioneering prevention research
Pregnant women in Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes are being invited to take part in a study which will screen their newborn babies’ risk of Type 1 diabetes. The team will do this by taking a small blood sample and looking at their genetics. The families of any babies carrying genes linked to a higher risk of the condition will then be invited to take part in the POInT trial (Primary Oral Insulin Trial).
The team hope to screen 30,000 babies over the next three years, to find at least 300 who are at high risk of Type 1 diabetes. Those 300 babies will be part of the global POInT trial involving around 1,040.
POInT aims to find out if spoon-feeding high-risk children small doses of insulin powder can prevent them from developing the condition.
Children will be given either insulin powder or a placebo (dummy drug) until they are three years old. Because they’re taking insulin orally, it will be quickly broken down in their stomachs and won’t have any effect on their blood sugar levels. Scientists will follow the two groups to monitor whether taking insulin prevents or delays Type 1 diabetes.
Building tolerance to insulin
In Type 1 diabetes, the immune system attacks insulin and the cells that produce it. Scientists hope that giving children insulin in this way could increase their tolerance toward insulin, making their immune system less likely to launch an attack.
Selina Coleman’s daughter Zara was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at 13 months old. She welcomed the new research: “When you have a child you expect everything to run smoothly, so to be delivered the news that she was diagnosed with an incurable condition was a big blow and I was very upset at the time.
“You read about more and more children being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes so it’s vital for this research to go ahead.”
Zara, now 12, said: “Research into preventing diabetes sounds really amazing. For someone to have that chance to live without it and have that freedom would be great."
Dr Elizabeth Robertson, Director of Research at Diabetes UK said:
“Type 1 diabetes is a very serious condition and there is currently no way to prevent it.
"So we’re delighted to see this global initiative to prevent Type 1 diabetes getting underway, with the University of Oxford and families in the UK playing a vital role. Before the oral insulin trial begins, the researchers need to recruit 30,000 pregnant women to the study, to find out their baby’s risk of Type 1 diabetes. This is a huge endeavor, so we would encourage women living in the South East who think they might be eligible to find out more – research like this can’t happen without the incredible people who take part.”