Environmental Triggers for Type 1 Diabetes
SEATTLE (Ivanhoe Broadcast News) -- The number of people who have type 1 diabetes has tripled in the last 50 years. Now, scientists believe the environment is linked to that rise in this type of diabetes. New research could be the first to finally prove it.
It’s just another part of life for 7-year-old Espen Yeckel. “I’m ok with it,” he says. But his parents wonder why he has type 1 diabetes and his sister Amanda does not. No one else in the family has it either.
Espen's mother, Ellen, says, “We would really like to know. We haven’t spent that much time thinking about it because we assume that we’re not going to ever really know what triggered it for him.”
The Yeckels wonder if it was something in the environment. Researchers wonder too. Now, they want to prove it.
Endocrinologist William Hagopian, M.D., Ph.D., says, “We’re hoping that we can identify two or three or four clear risk factors for type 1 diabetes that we can then develop preventions for.” Several studies show possible triggers include early exposure to cow’s milk, an intestinal virus, or wheat products in the first few months of life.
All the research has been too small to prove an absolute link. Now, scientists are about to embark upon the largest study ever to look at the environmental causes of type 1 diabetes. Eight thousand high-risk newborns will be followed for 15 years.
“Just by avoiding a certain food or avoiding it in the first year of life or getting a vaccine for a viral infection -- a common viral infection -- it may be possible to decrease the risk of future diabetes substantially," says Dr. Hagopian, from Pacific Northwest Research Institute in Seattle.
While insulin shots are now routine for Espen, his parents hope this new study will keep other kids from ever having to take their first shot.
Up to 1.7 million people in the United States are living with type 1 diabetes. It's most commonly diagnosed in childhood -- in fact, the risk of developing type 1 diabetes is higher than virtually all other severe chronic diseases of childhood.
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Pacific Northwest Research Institute