Local residents participate in study analyzing type 1 diabetes risk

| Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012, 8:58 p.m.

Kayla Vance cringed for just a second as Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh nurse Karen Riley inserted a needle into her arm for a blood test. In the next instant, the 7-year-old was smiling and awaiting a bright pink Band-Aid.

Kayla is getting used to these kinds of tests, as a participant in clinical trials being conducted by Type 1 Diabetes TrialNet, a network of 18 research centers helping medical professionals learn more about the disease.

Though it is often called “juvenile diabetes,” type 1 occurs in children and adults. It develops when the body destroys insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.

“A lot of people think Type 1 affects only juveniles and Type 2 affects adults,” said Dr. Dorothy Becker, chief of endocrinology and diabetes at Children's. “That's really a misnomer, because at least half of Type 1 occurs in adulthood and is misdiagnosed.”

The trials are open to most family members of people with type 1 diabetes because they are at particular risk for developing the disease — 15 times more likely than the general population. Immediate family members ages 1 to 45 are eligible for screening, as are second-degree relatives, such as nieces and nephews, ages 1 to 20.

According to the American Diabetes Association, nearly 300,000 people in Western Pennsylvania have diabetes. On average nationally, 5 percent to 10 percent of diabetes cases are type 1.

People with type 1 diabetes take insulin injections every day and check their blood sugar at least four times a day. Left untreated, it can cause decreased vision, kidney problems and gangrene and can be fatal.

Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body cannot use insulin properly or does not make enough insulin. It's usually seen in overweight and less active adults. Both forms can be mitigated by healthy diet and lifestyle.

Because there is no way to prevent or cure type 1 diabetes, public-health officials are pushing more people to get tested to detect the illness early, which can reduce some of its effects.

The TrialNet Pathway to Prevention study is divided into two parts, screening and monitoring. Screening involves drawing blood and analyzing it for autoantibodies predictive of the development of the disease.

Those who test positive can undergo a baseline monitoring visit to estimate their risk level. Those with higher risk are monitored with oral glucose tolerance tests.

Kayla, who has been involved in the study at Children's in Lawrenceville since June, is considered high risk. She takes a daily capsule that is either a placebo or an oral dose of insulin and has tests run every three months.

Kayla's half-brother, Austin, 11, was diagnosed with the disease three years ago after experiencing intense thirst and mood changes. Learning to live with it has been “life-changing,” said his stepmother, Sheryl Vance of Murrysville.

“We know the risk is pretty high” that Kayla could have the disease as well, Vance said.

The TrialNet study will last several years. Becker said she hopes this type of research eventually “puts us out of a job.”

“We need partners. We need volunteers. A lot of people say, ‘You can have my money, but not my blood.' Sometimes, blood is worth more than gold.”

Rachel Weaver is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7948 or rweaver@tribweb.com.

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