Article in The Wall Street Journal Online
There is currently no way to prevent or cure Type 1 diabetes, a disease that has been hitting a growing number of children and adults. So, researchers and public-health officials are pushing more people to get tested to detect the illness early, which can reduce some of its dangerous effects.
As many as three million Americans have Type 1 diabetes, which is an autoimmune disorder that attacks the body's ability to make insulin, a hormone that enables people to get energy from food. Despite the similar sounding names, Type 1 diabetes is very different from the more widespread Type 2 diabetes, which can be controlled and prevented with diet, exercise and medication.
For reasons that aren't clear, cases of Type 1 diabetes, long called juvenile diabetes because it is often diagnosed in young people, have been growing at an annual rate of about 3%. About 30,000 new cases are diagnosed each year—about half of them in adults.
A blood test can help doctors identify the onset of the disease as many as 10 years before symptoms start. Early detection can help patients avoid unknowingly slipping into a critical insulin deficiency, which can be fatal; for many people, a visit to the emergency room offers the first inkling they have the disease. And starting treatment for Type 1 early can guard against long-term dangers including kidney failure, blindness and other complications.
Type 1 Diabetes TrialNet, a network of 18 research centers conducting clinical trials, is expanding a nationwide free screening program. Tests are being offered to family members of people with Type 1 diabetes, who studies have shown have a 15 times greater risk of developing the condition than the general population. The consortium also hopes information gathered from patients will further its efforts to prevent or cure the disease.