Introducing a routine test to check whether newborn babies may be at risk of developing type 1 diabetes have become one step closer to becoming reality.

A global study involving researchers from seven international sites involving nearly 8,000 children say they have discovered a new approach that dramatically improves prediction of which child might be at risk of the autoimmune condition.

As part of the Environmental Determinants of Diabetes in the Young (TEDDY) Study, teams from the University of Exeter and the Pacific Northwest Research Institute in Seattle developed a combined risk score.

This involved taking into account the child’s genetics, clinical factors such as family history of diabetes, and their count of islet autoantibodies.

They said the data collected doubled the efficiency of programmes to screen newborns which helped prevent ketoacidosis, a deadly consequence of type 1 diabetes if not treated urgently.

Dr Lauric Ferrat at the University of Exeter Medical School, said: “At the moment, 40 per cent of children who are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes have the severe complication of ketoacidosis.

“For the very young this is life-threatening, resulting in long intensive hospitalisations and in some cases even paralysis or death. Using our new combined approach to identify which babies will develop diabetes can prevent these tragedies, and ensure children are on the right treatment pathway earlier in life, meaning better health.”

Professor William Hagopian, from the Pacific Northwest Research Institute, added: “We’re really excited by these findings. They suggest that the routine heel prick testing of babies done at birth, could go a long way towards preventing early sickness as well as predicting which children will get type 1 diabetes years later.

“We’re now putting this to the test in a trial in Washington State. We hope it will ultimately be used internationally to identify the condition as early as possible, and to power efforts to prevent the disease.”

The findings of the study have been published in the Nature Medicine journal.

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