Scientists have taken a remarkably detailed look at the initial steps that occur in the body when type 1 diabetes mellitus first develops in a child or young adult.
The analysis comes from a team of researchers and physicians at the University of Rochester Medical Center who have expertise both in the laboratory and in treating patients. The team studied children from ages 8 to 18 within 48 hours of their diagnosis with type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system attacks the cells in the pancreas that make insulin.
The incidence of the disease is rising quickly and has roughly doubled during the last 20 years or so. Approximately 30,000 children each year in the United States are diagnosed with the disease, according to the American Diabetes Association.
The trend is noticeable to pediatrician Nicholas Jospe, M.D., chief of Pediatric Endocrinology at Golisano Children’s Hospital of the University of Rochester Medical Center, and his colleagues nationwide. His group now sees about 90 new cases of type 1 diabetes per year, compared to approximately 25 annually 20 years ago.
Every day, at the eastern end of the medical center, Jospe counsels families and children coping with the condition. At the same time, in a labyrinth of laboratories situated nearly half a mile to the west under the same roof, immunologists like Deborah J. Fowell, Ph.D., use an array of high-tech equipment to interrogate the likes of T-cells and macrophages for answers about the workings of the immune system.
For the current study, published in the journal Diabetes, Fowell and Jospe pooled their strengths to look at the disease in a way impossible to do alone. While scientists know diabetes is becoming more common, they don’t understand what factors trigger it, why some children are more prone to getting it, or even why it’s becoming more common.