The cause of type 1 diabetes is complex. There is not a single gene responsible for the disease, and both genetics and environment play a role. Plus, there is currently no way of preventing the disease from occurring. However, scientists believe that they can better predict which children and teenagers are at higher risk so their health can be monitored more closely and treatment started before they develop potentially life-threatening diabetic ketoacidosis.
A recent study found that a simple genetic test that compares an individual’s gene profile to 82 genetic sites that are known to be associated with type 1 diabetes can identify those who are most at risk. The test only costs $7 and uses a saliva sample, so no blood draws or painful testing are required. If an individual is flagged as high risk, they can then have autoantibody screening conducted to look for the presence of four islet autoantibody biomarkers of the disease. The presence of two or more autoantibodies further identifies an individual at increased risk. Autoantibody tests are slightly more expensive at $75 each.
While family history does increase risk of type 1 diabetes, it is not a guaranteed indicator, and more than 90% of people who develop the disease do not have a family history. This genetic test could help to differentiate between those at high risk and those at low risk so there are fewer unnecessary tests that occur, and individuals who could benefit from closer monitoring can be more accurately identified.
According to the study, “The general population risk of type 1 diabetes is about 4 out of 1000, and those with a positive genetic test now have a risk of about 4 out of 100.” Testing may allow doctors to provide more targeted care and treatment for the disease and support individuals in better managing their health. As research continues to advance, scientists learn more about the risk factors, biomarkers, genetic sites, and environmental factors that all contribute to the development of type 1 diabetes. In turn, this can enhance prediction, prevention, and treatment of the disease.
Diabetes Research Connection (DRC) supports early-career scientists in growing the body of knowledge that exists regarding type 1 diabetes by providing critical funding for research projects. Studies are focused on preventing and curing the disease as well as minimizing complications and improving quality of life. Learn more about current projects and how to support these efforts by visiting https://diabetesresearchconnection.org.