Australia could be first to adopt routine childhood screening for Type 1 diabetes

Australia could become the first country to adopt routine childhood screening to detect Type 1 diabetes in children, if a new national screening research pilot for Type 1 diabetes funded by JDRF and led by a team at the University of Sydney is successful.

Type 1 diabetes is frequently diagnosed in children and adolescents too late, with 1 in 3 Australian children not diagnosed until they require emergency care, because its first signs and symptoms, like tiredness and excessive thirst, can be easily missed or mistaken for other minor childhood concerns. Since ninety per cent of those diagnosed have no family history of Type 1 diabetes, routine childhood screening is the only way to identify most children at risk of the condition.

The new Type 1 Diabetes National Screening Pilot will help determine how to best implement such screening in Australia, comparing differing screening methods, including dried bloodspot testing in newborns and older children and saliva samples in infants.

This type of screening is only possible due to a new classification that identifies two early, pre-symptomatic stages (stages 1 and 2) of Type 1 diabetes that mark the onset of the condition, rather than the previously late and symptomatic diagnosis (stage 3), when the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas have already been destroyed. Stages 1 and 2 can be present for months or years prior to onset of symptoms and can be detected through simple screening. Those who are identified with early-stage type 1 diabetes are likely to still feel perfectly well with no symptoms and will be referred to a childhood diabetes specialist for ongoing care and monitoring.

JDRF Chief Scientific Officer, Dr Dorota Pawlak, says that such early detection opens avenues to intercept the condition further down the track: “The Type 1 Diabetes National Screening Pilot is a very exciting advancement for T1D research that could enable population-wide early detection and provide opportunities for preventative interventions … participants who are identified with early-stage Type 1 diabetes could be offered enrolment into clinical trials for preventative treatments, which, if successful, could become available more widely to anyone who needs them.”

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