Researchers look to arrest the development of Type 1 diabetes

Friday 14 July 2023

More children are getting Type 1 diabetes and Mater Researcher Professor Jo Forbes is working to find out, “why?” 

Professor Forbes, Mater Research’s Chronic and Integrated Care Program Leader and Glycation and Diabetes Complications Research Group Leader Glycation and Diabetes Complications Research, explained Type 1 diabetes in children is twice as common now than it was 20-years ago. 

“Not only is Type 1 diabetes common, but in the last 40-years we’ve also seen it evolve, particularly in Westernised and industrialised nations like Australia,” Professor Forbes said. 

“Because of factors, such as our changing environment, more children are being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at a younger age than ever before.” 

“I am working to find the causes and how to prevent it.” 

Type 1 diabetes develops due to an autoimmune response where the body’s immune system destroys its own insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. This autoimmune response can be detected by measuring antibodies in the blood stream, known as islet autoantibodies and the resulting condition is known as islet autoimmunity. 

 “There is still very little known about what triggers a child to develop islet autoimmunity,” Professor Forbes said. 

“There are several factors that may be important, including viral infections during pregnancy and early childhood, environmental pollutants and genetics.” 

“By identifying the factors that initiate the development of islet autoimmunity in early life, we can potentially find a way to prevent Type 1 diabetes before the autoimmune process begins.” 

Professor Forbes is involved in the Environmental Determinants of Islet Autoimmunity Study (ENDIA) study. Since 2013 the study has followed 1,500 families, including children from birth, who have an immediate relative with Type 1 diabetes. 

In the ten-years since the ENDIA study began, a wealth of biological samples and surveys have been collected, including from Mater Mothers’ Hospital. 

“Not only are we thinking about why young people are getting Type 1 diabetes, but also why are they at risk of complications?” Professor Forbes said. 

“We already know that up to 40 per cent of people who have diabetes get complications such as kidney disease, cardiovascular disease, blindness and amputations, but we don't really understand why young people experience these complications earlier in their life and sometimes at an accelerated rate. 

“We are now working with a company overseas who have a therapy that we think may be able to arrest that development. We know that this therapeutic is safe in adults. We are hoping to begin an early clinical trial in younger people in the future to see if this therapeutic will be of benefit to them too. 

“Kidney disease is also a major risk for people with Type 1 diabetes, placing them at risk of  cardiovascular issues”. 

“Thanks to the 1,500 children and their families involved in the ENDIA study, the diabetes community have a wealth of biological samples, data and surveys. My team and I now plan access this biobank to look at the data and see if we can solve the mystery about what is causing this increase in Type 1 diabetes in children. 

“I’m passionate about creating a future where people don’t develop Type 1 diabetes or kidney disease” 

For more information about Professor Jo Forbes and her research, click here