THE Hunter Region has the highest incidence of Type 1 diabetes in Australia, but a new study could offer a “monumental breakthrough” for local families living with the disease, a local endocrinologist says.
Dr Claire Morbey, of the Hunter Diabetes Centre, said the Environmental Determinants of Islet Autoimmunity (ENDIA) study was hoping to determine the cause of Type 1 diabetes to help prevent it.
“The studies so far have suggested that there may be different clusters of bacteria and viruses in the gut in people with diabetes compared to those without,” Dr Morbey said.
“We are trying to find whether there are any triggers in our diet or environment that can switch on Type 1 diabetes. If we can find what potentially switches it on, then potentially we can find out how to switch it off with a vaccine.”
Dr Morbey said the world-first study was in the “very early” stages.
To demonstrate a stronger link, she said ENDIA researchers needed 1400 babies of mothers, fathers, or siblings with Type 1 diabetes to participate.
“The Hunter area has the largest incidence of Type 1 diabetes in the country, so it would be a monumental breakthrough for some of our at-risk families that have one or more family members with the disease,” Dr Morbey said.
“We are delighted that several families from the Hunter area are already participating in the trial, and we hope that more families will volunteer.
“At the end of the study we will have collected over 1 million different samples of skin swabs, poo samples, urine etc,” Dr Morbey said.
“Only then can scientists be confident in saying that they have found a causative link.”
Dr Morbey said Type 1 diabetes in children was twice as common as it was 20 years ago, and about seven new cases were diagnosed each day in Australia.
Rachel Peake, of Mayfield, has Type 1 diabetes, and is participating in the trial with her baby son, Harrison.
Ms Peake said she wanted to be involved because she knew how difficult Type 1 diabetes could be for both the patient, and their families.
But she considers herself one of the lucky ones.
Ms Peake was diagnosed when she was 10, so she could tell her parents when she started to feel unwell.
“Young children, like newborns, they can’t tell you that they are feeling low because they can’t communicate yet,” she said.
“A lot of young kids passed away because they had hypos when they were asleep. That scared me. So if being involved in this study can help prevent that, or delay the onset of diabetes in one child, that would be amazing to be part of.”
To get involved, visit endia.org.au.
Ms Peake got involved in the study, which involves a series of tests and swabs, while pregnant with Harrison.
Harrison’s umbilical cord blood was collected at birth, and Ms Peake has had to keep a food diary.