Fighting Type 1 Diabetes: One Blood Draw at a Time

Dana VanBuecken, ARNP, Research Nurse Practitioner, shares why she encourages families to participate in TrialNet

As a research nurse practitioner, I provide care for children and adults participating in type 1 diabetes research at Benaroya Research Institute. As a person living with type 1 myself, I feel so much gratitude toward all of the research participants who have gone before me, allowing for the development of diabetes care and technologies that permit me and others like me to live full, healthy lives!

I’m amazed every day by the courage and commitment of our participants who continue to help change the course of type 1 diabetes (T1D).

It’s not just T1D patients who are helping to advance research. Thanks to a large study from TrialNet, an inter­national network of researchers dedicated to preventing type 1 diabetes, family members can also participate. If you have a relative with T1D, you may be eligible to take part in TrialNet’s risk screening study while also gaining valuable information about your own health.

Screening Family Members Leads To Research Discoveries

Thanks to what we’ve learned from previous studies, we can now identify who is going to get type 1 diabetes even before symptoms develop. The starting point is genetic risk. Everyone who is diagnosed with the disease has the genes associated with T1D. In the general population, one person in 300 will get the disease. However, if you have a family member with T1D, your risk is 15 times greater! In other words, in the subset of people who have a family member with T1D, one person in 20 will eventu­ally develop T1D.

How can we predict which family members will progress to diabetes? T1D occurs when the immune system mis­takenly attacks and destroys the insulin-producing beta cells in the body. With TrialNet risk screening, a simple blood test can detect diabetes-related autoantibodies, markers that signify an autoimmune attack.

If someone tests positive for one autoantibody, they are at increased risk of type one diabetes. If they persistently test positive for two or more autoantibodies, we gener­ally expect their lifetime chance of developing T1D to be almost 100%. Having two-plus autoantibodies is now considered “stage one” of type 1 diabetes.

Identifying people with autoantibodies helps researchers learn more about how the disease develops and allows them to test medications that can prevent or eventu­ally stop the disease.

Early Detection Allows For Early Intervention

Diabetes-related autoantibodies can appear years before a person develops symptoms. When we find that someone tests positive for one or more autoanti­bodies:

  • We monitor them closely for disease progression, at yearly or twice-yearly visits. Most visits include autoantibody, HbA1c and glucose tolerance tests.
  • We may offer prevention studies that test thera­pies to preserve remaining beta cell function and slow or stop the autoimmune attack.

Being tested for autoantibodies through TrialNet allows you to learn if you’re at increased risk of disease and to benefit from monitoring for early signs of type one diabetes. If we know you have autoanti­bodies, we will we most likely catch T1D before you or your child have symptoms or severe complications such as DKA.

And with each family member who screens for risk through TrialNet, we move one step closer to ending type one diabetes.

This story was originally published by Benaroya Research Institute at Virginia Mason on May 4, 2018