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Developing a better test to diagnose and predict type 1

Project summary

Scientists can test for signals made by the immune system, called autoantibodies, to help diagnose which type of diabetes someone has. And to help predict who is at risk of developing type 1 diabetes in the future. Professor Gillespie is exploring how to increase the accuracy of an autoantibody test and ready it for use in the NHS. This could lead to better ways of diagnosing and predicting type 1 and could give us new insights into the root causes of the condition.  

Background to research

Type 1 diabetes can develop at any age, from very young children to older adults. In older people it’s sometimes difficult to accurately diagnose if they have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, because symptoms of the two conditions can overlap. 

Type 1 diabetes happens when the immune system mistakenly attacks the pancreas. We can currently test for indicators of this immune attack by looking for markers in the blood, called autoantibodies. Autoantibody testing can help us to diagnose who has type 1 diabetes, who is likely to develop it in the future and can help us learn more about the root causes of the condition.  

Professor Gillespie and her team have been working on a new and improved test to identify a particular type of autoantibody, called GADA, with more accuracy. They found it’s better than the existing GADA autoantibody test at distinguishing between adults who had type 1 diabetes and who had type 2 diabetes. 

But they now need to improve the test further before it can be routinely used to diagnose or predict type 1 diabetes.  

Research aims

Professor Gillespie will compare the existing GADA autoantibody test with her new version, to build more evidence to show it works better and is ready for use in the NHS.  

The research team will use blood samples from children and adults with type 1 and without diabetes to run both versions of the test. This will allow them to work out if age impacts GADA autoantibodies and if they need to tweak the test make sure it works well in people of different ages.  

Finally, they’ll link up results from their GADA test with tests that measure how much insulin the pancreas is making. This will help them to see if the new test can help predict who will rapidly lose the ability to produce their own insulin after a diabetes diagnosis. 

Potential benefit to people with diabetes

This research could allow scientists to roll out a new test that helps to:  

  • better diagnose type 1 diabetes in adults and helps to avoid dangerous cases of misdiagnosis.  

  • Predict who is at greater risk of progressing rapidly to insulin treatment, even if they have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.  

  • improve screening for type 1 diabetes in children and adults without diabetes, by more accurately identifying those at high risk of the condition. 

  • improve our understanding of how type 1 diabetes develops in people of different ages. 

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