New research suggests that children with type 1 diabetes demonstrate slower brain growth than children without the condition.
The study, published in the journal Diabetes, indicates that the frequent exposure to hyperglycemia experienced by diabetic children impairs the development of the brain.
The research was conducted on children between the ages of four and nine with diabetes. The researchers used structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and cognitive tests, in addition to blood sugar monitoring.
The children demonstrated slower growth of white and grey matter compared to the results of children without diabetes. There was however no discernable significant differences in cognitive functions at the 18 months.
Growth was impaired in several regions of the brain, including visual-spatial processing, executive functions and memory.
Nelly Mauras, chief of the division of endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism at the Nemours Children’s Clinic, and lead author of the study said: “Our results show the potential vulnerability of young developing brains to abnormally elevated glucose levels even when the diabetes duration has been relatively brief.
“Despite the best efforts of parents and diabetes care team, about 50 per cent of all blood glucose concentrations during the study were measured in the high range. Remarkably, the cognitive tests remained normal, but whether these observed changes will ultimately impact brain function will need further study.
“As better technology develops, we hope to determine if the differences observed with brain imaging can improve with better glucose control.”
The research continues to be funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), allowing the researchers to follow the same children through puberty, conducting similar tests.
The research draws attention to the problem of type 1 diabetes symptom awareness. A recent survey indicated that less than one in six parents would recognise the symptoms of type 1 diabetes in their child. Many people with type 1 diabetes are not diagnosed until the onset of complications such as diabetic ketoacidosis, but this study suggests that there may be other damaging consequences to failing to identify type 1 diabetes early on.

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