The objective of the TEDDY Study is to identify which molecular and environmental factors contribute to the development of T1D. The current findings are published in Diabetes Metabolism Research and Reviews.
As with all biological circumstances, a person has a genetic blueprint in their DNA of what may or may not happen to them. Researchers know that environmental stimuli have a big part in switching a gene on or off to develop or evade a predisposed disease.
The TEDDY study has followed nearly 9,000 at-risk children from birth to age 15, to parse which genetic mutations correlate with progression or lack of progression to T1D. For the last decade, thousands of newborns have been screened by the centers for two genes believed to put them at high-risk for T1D.
The children’s blood is examined regularly for signs of an immune system attack on their insulin-producing cells. The blood also provides a window into the activity of genes as parents keep detailed records of what their children eat, when they exercise, get sick, stressed or vaccinated.
Parents bring in water samples from where they live and collect fingernail clippings and stool samples as part of the effort to piece together the genetic and environmental causes of T1D. This is all done in the name of science to identify and prevent T1D in future generations.
“We are using this information to correlate the progression or lack of progression of the disease with different molecular markers and environmental triggers to understand all the factors contributing to the development of type 1 diabetes as well as what factors can provide protection from disease progression,” said the lead investigator of the TEDDY Study.
Logically, the approach diabetes researchers have taken in the last 20 years has been arguably unsuccessful. Comparing T1D patients with controls doesn’t help researchers understand what flips the switch to lead to T1D. They know which genes can do it. Now they want to know what starts the fire that burns into T1D.
A large amount of data continually generated by TEDDY is enabling scientists to watch all the important pieces play out: gene expression juxtaposed to environmental exposures and, ultimately to disease or lack thereof.
“We are watching it unfold at all levels. We are finding the real players. This is going to allow us to better predict which children will develop type 1 diabetes and, ultimately, what we can do to prevent or better manage this disease.”
Nearly 500 of TEDDY’s 9,000 enrollees, who are now an average age of about 5, have persistent evidence of antibodies to their own insulin-producing islet cells – evidence that their immune system is turning on their cells – and more than 100 of the children already have T1D.
When TEDDY is successful at the study objective, it will be lights-out for T1D and every parent, child, and loved one will have a goodnight sleep in a world where fewer people are affected by T1D.
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