New findings suggesting that children diagnosed with type 1 diabetes before the age of seven have a very different form of the disease could lead to new ways of treating it, potentially including a vaccine. Jim Drury reports.
Nine year old Bethan has Type 1 diabetes. She uses an omnipod pump to deliver insulin when required, while Mum Lizzie watches her diet. Before her diagnosis, life was tough. SOUNDBITE (English) BETHAN WESTCOTT-STORER, NINE-YEAR-OLD DIABETES TYPE ONE PATIENT, SAYING: "I felt very weak and tired all the time." SOUNDBITE (English) LIZZIE STORER, MOTHER OF BETHAN, SAYING: "We noticed that she'd become quite thin, she'd lost a lot of weight, but she didn't have all of the signs that other children normally have with type 1 - she didn't have the excess thirst and urinating. Just lost a lot of weight, so she's been diagnosed for 15 months now." Now Bethan's the picture of health...and the news could get better. The University of Exeter Medical School has made a major discovery that could lead to better treatment and even prevention of the disease. SOUNDBITE (English) PROFESSOR NOEL MORGAN, OF THE UNIVERSITY OF EXETER MEDICAL SCHOOL, SAYING: "It's always been thought that when people get type 1 diabetes they've lost as many as 90 percent of their insulin producing cells from their pancreas. What we've found is that while that might be the case for the younger children it certainly doesn't appear to be true for those that are older. They have quite a considerable reserve of cells left. That's a new insight and it might mean that if we could reactivate those cells we could help them to cope better with their illness." Researchers examined around 100 pancreas samples in Exeter's biobank. They found that those diagnosed before the age of seven develop a more aggressive form of the disease than teenagers. SOUNDBITE (English) DR SARAH RICHARDSON, UNIVERSITY OF EXETER MEDICAL SCHOOL, AND CO-AUTHOR ON THE STUDY, SAYING: "Those samples are extremely important because we do not understand the underlying disease process that goes on in these individuals and it's that recent diagnosis that's critical for us to actually look inside the pancreas and see what is going wrong, and the pancreas itself is an extremely inaccessible organ." SOUNDBITE (English) PROFESSOR NOEL MORGAN, OF THE UNIVERSITY OF EXETER MEDICAL SCHOOL, SAYING: "We're trying to understand what the trigger is and it may be possible to use a vaccine to stop the triggering process, but it might also be able to use a different kind of vaccine to target the specific immune cells that are causing the illness, and that's where the excitement lies." Although well adjusted to her daily routine, Bethan also has high hopes for the ongoing research. SOUNDBITE (English) BETHAN WESTCOTT-STORER, NINE-YEAR-OLD DIABETES TYPE ONE PATIENT, SAYING: "If one day in the future they find a cure or something lots and lots of people are going to be really happy."