Screenings Focus on Relatives of Children with Type 1 Diabetes

September 26, 2016

Frank and Henry Cross’ family benefited from a TrialNet study focused on identifying predictors of type 1 diabetes. Learn more.

Hasbro Children’s Hospital is the only center in Rhode Island participating in an international NIH study to screen relatives of children with type 1 diabetes. Family members of children with type 1 diabetes are at higher risk of developing diabetes, making early detection important to their treatment.

The study is part of TrialNet, a global network of researchers exploring ways to prevent, delay and reverse type 1 diabetes.  

Jose Bernardo Quintos, MD, director of Hasbro Children’s Diabetes Outpatient Education Center and chief of the Division of Pediatric Endocrinology, is overseeing the study at Hasbro Children’s Hospital.

Clearly, genetics play a critical role in type 1 diabetes.  

Yes. One of the risk factors is inherited, a genetic factor. People with type 1 diabetes are more likely to have inherited certain cell types called HLA types. Nearly all people with type 1 diabetes have either a high risk HLA type DR3 or DR4 gene. Other factors include self-allergy (autoimmunity), and environmental damage, such as a virus or chemical.

How does this translate statistically?  

Each month, our program sees six to eight children newly diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Those children’s family members are 15 times more likely to have diabetes. To put it into perspective, the overall prevalence of type 1 diabetes is about 1 in 300 children, but the risk among those with a sibling with diabetes is about 1 in 20 children. This study is looking at our patients’ siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, etc. These family members are screened and monitored closely to diagnose and begin treatment as early as possible.

Jose Bernardo Quintos, MD

How does the screening work?  

The symptoms of diabetes – including excessive thirst and drinking, excessive urination, weight loss and excessive hunger – may seem to appear suddenly, but research has found that the potential risk can be detected years before symptoms appear. TrialNet offers a blood test that can identify increased risk for type 1 diabetes up to 10 years before symptoms of diabetes appear. This test looks for certain markers in the blood, called autoantibodies, that signal an increased risk for the disease. For relatives of people with type 1 diabetes, only about 5 out of every 100 people have these markers.

Who is screened as part of TrialNet?  

TrialNet offers screening to those 45 years old and younger with a parent, brother, sister, or child with type 1 diabetes, as well as those age 20 years and younger with a niece, nephew, aunt, uncle, grandparent, half-brother, half-sister or cousin with type 1 diabetes.

What are the benefits of being screened?  

Early diagnosis makes it possible to avoid complications that can occur when diabetes goes undetected. Also, those relatives who test positive for an increased risk of type 1 diabetes may be able to join research studies testing ways to delay and prevent the disease. Those whose results are negative will have the opportunity to get screened every year until they are 18 years of age. In addition, participants in TrialNet research are closely monitored for the earliest signs of type 1 diabetes.

How can someone join the TrialNet study?  

For more information, (401) 444-8049. Before you can have the screening test, my research assistant and I will ask you to read the informed consent and sign it. Parents must give permission for children under 18 years old.