A study that will screen 20,000 UK adults for type 1 diabetes was launched this week by the University of Bristol to coincide with World Diabetes Day.
The study, known as the Type 1 Diabetes Risk in Adults (TQDRA), aims to recruit 20,000 adults between the ages of 18 and 70 from the general population to assess their risk of developing diabetes. A similar study for children, ELSA (EarLy Surveillance for Autoimmune diabetes), was launched last year, making the UK the first country to offer general population type 1 diabetes screening for children and adults in a research setting.
In combination with data from the UK’s longest-running study of type 1 diabetes, the Diabetes UK-funded Bart’s Oxford Family study (BOX), the new research will aim to answer critical questions about the development of adult-onset type 1 diabetes. The findings will enable those identified as high risk to begin a monitoring and education programme and participate in clinical trials which could prevent or delay the condition.
Type 1 diabetes is a lifelong autoimmune condition affecting up to 400,000 people in the UK. The researchers hope that the new study will shed light on adult-onset diabetes, particularly in people who have no close families with the condition. More than half of type 1 diabetes diagnoses are in adults, but its development is not well understood since past studies often focus on childhood development of the condition.
To understand more about adult onset of type 1 diabetes, the researchers will send participants finger prick test kits in the post, and the blood samples collected will be examined for blood markers. The markers, which are linked to the onset of type 1 diabetes and are known as islet autoantibodies, are proteins used by the immune system to help identify insulin-producing cells in order to destroy them. The proteins can appear in the blood decades before patients experience symptoms.
The research team will follow up with people who are high risk based on the presence of islet autoantibodies in their blood. This will enable them to determine how many adults go on to develop type 1 diabetes and how quickly the condition progresses. Those at risk will be offered the chance to participate in clinical trials, including treatments such as new immunotherapy drugs.
Professor Kathleen Gillespie, the lead researcher on the T1DRA study from the University of Bristol, said: ‘This research will help us get a much clearer idea of how many adults in the UK are at risk of type 1 diabetes by screening for markers in blood samples. We will follow up those individuals with islet autoantibodies to better understand how type 1 diabetes occurs in adults and offer participants the opportunity to participate in clinical trials to prevent the condition.’
The researchers hope the study will enable adult onset type 1 diabetes to be spotted early and, ultimately, a diagnosis prevented.