Study reaches recruitment target with help of young volunteer
News reports of the worsening obesity epidemic and its link to serious health conditions like diabetes are everywhere. But a growing number of people have a form of diabetes that is not connected to being overweight or eating too much sugar: type 1 diabetes. But tens of thousands of volunteers including a four-year-old, are helping NIH-supported researchers shed new light on this perplexing disease.
Zeidner: Emily Gershbein barely winces when staffers at the Pacific Northwest Diabetes Research Institute in Seattle poke her four-year-old daughter Tilly with a needle to draw blood. Tilly doesnít seem to mind, either. At the end of one recent visit, she scored a teddy bear. But Emily has her eye on a much bigger prize: an eventual vaccine or other preventive treatment for type 1 diabetes.
Gershbein: I was just looking for a chance to participate in something that might lead to a cure or a better treatment for diabetes.
Zeidner: Emily is among thousands of parents worldwide who enrolled a child in an NIH-supported study known as TEDDY, shorthand for The Environmental Determinants of Diabetes in the Young.
Gershbein: When her blood was tested at birth, it showed a slightly elevated risk. So I thought it would be a good idea for her to join in case it might benefit her. And I thought it would be a good for people with type 1 diabetes in general in case some of the research would help those people.
Zeidner: Type 1 diabetes develops when the bodyís immune system destroys the pancreas, the only organ that produces the hormone insulin. Our bodies need insulin to properly process glucose, which gives the body energy. People with type 1 diabetes, like those with its more familiar cousin, type 2 diabetes, are at increased risk of serious complications such as blindness, kidney disease, nerve damage and amputation. But unlike type 2 diabetes, which often can be managed through regular exercise and a healthy diet, people with type 1 diabetes need insulin injections. Around the world, NIH scientists are hoping to discover what causes type 1. Dr. Judy Fradkin, director of diabetes research at NIH, says finding the root of the disease could be key to controlling it.
Fradkin: Some of the kinds of things we think might be involved are viruses and some very specific gastrointestinal viruses. Weíre also looking very closely at dietary factors that might influence the risk of type 1 diabetes.
Zeidner: In another large international study called TrialNet, researchers also are looking to parents, children, brothers, sisters and even aunts, uncles and cousins of people with type 1 to solve the puzzle of how the disease develops and how to prevent it.
Fradkin: People who are at risk of the disease when they are followed before they get the disease and are diagnosed earlier often have better outcomes.
Zeidner: Getting healthy people to volunteer for a study that tells them they are or may become sick can be a hard sell. But Dr. Fradkin says itís important to look at the bigger picture.
Fradkin: If we can find a strategy to prevent or delay the onset, we can give children back many years of carefree childhood without all of the difficulties of pricking their fingers and adjusting their insulin.
Zeidner: Participating in TrialNet is free. To find out more about how you can sign-up and help researchers find a cure for type 1 diabetes, call 1-800-HALT-DM1. Thatís 1-800-425-8361. Or go online to www.diabetestrialnet.org. This is Rita Zeidner, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland.
About This Audio Report
Reporter: Rita Zeidner
Sound Bite: Dr. Judy Fradkin
Topic: diabetes, type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes, TEDDY, TrialNet, diabetes treatment, insulin, pancreas, immune system