People with type 1 diabetes are more likely be become seriously unwell if they catch coronavirus, but we know very little about how many people with type 1 have already had the virus in the UK, or how it has affected them. Professor Gillespie will test people with type 1 diabetes and their families for Covid-19 antibodies and ask them to share their experiences of coronavirus and lockdown. This will shed an important light on the impact the pandemic has had on people with type 1 and help to improve the advice and support they're given.
Background to research
People living with type 1 diabetes have a greater risk of becoming seriously ill if they catch coronavirus. But everything we know so far is based on people with type 1 diabetes who have become very unwell and been hospitalised. We need to get a clearer picture of how many people with type 1 diabetes have been infected to better understand the risks for people with type 1 diabetes and how the virus affects the condition.
Professor Gillespie and her colleagues at the University of Bristol lead some of the world’s largest and longest running family studies of type 1 diabetes, to help understand the causes of the condition. They’re experts at testing for antibodies that appear when the immune system begins attacking the pancreas in type 1 diabetes. Because of this they have the skills and facilities to rapidly roll out testing for Covid-19 antibodies in people with type 1 and their families.
Professor Gillespie and her team want to improve our understanding of how the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown has affected people living with type 1 diabetes and their families. They will reach out to 5,000 participants who are taking part in their previous type 1 studies (BOX and UK TrialNet) and ask them to complete a questionnaire to share their experiences – including how their blood sugar levels or diabetes management might have changed, if they've had any Covid-19 symptoms, and if they've been shielding.
Secondly, the team will work out the rates of coronavirus infections among people with type 1 diabetes using a new, very accurate antibody test. Participants will be able to send blood samples to the researchers in the post, allowing vital research to happen whilst social distancing continues.
Professor Gillespie will also examine people with type 1 diabetes' antibody responses before and after they've had their coronavirus vaccine and will look for any differences in response to the original virus and new variants.
Potential benefit to people with diabetes
This project will give us a picture – for the first time – of how many people with type 1 diabetes have had Covid-19, how their immune systems respond to vaccines and new coronavirus variants. It will also help us understand how the virus may have affected people living with type 1 and their diabetes.
Knowing more about the rates of infections and experiences among people with type 1 diabetes will be crucial to help inform UK government policies and the advice and support people with type 1 diabetes receive, so they can keep safe.