A small study by Imperial College London has found that the number of children diagnosed with type 1 diabetes almost doubled during the peak of the coronavirus epidemic in the UK.

The findings suggest a potential association between the two conditions, according to the researchers who have called for further investigations into the possible link.

The researchers suggest that one of the reasons behind this increase in cases of type 1 diabetes may be due to the spike protein – the sole viral membrane protein responsible for cell entry – caused by coronavirus potentially attacking insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.

It was the first time a study established an association between coronavirus and newly-onset type 1 diabetes in young people, although it did only involve 30 children.

This research follows similar reports coming out of Italy and China highlighting that children were being diagnosed in hospitals with new-onset type 1 diabetes amid the COVID-19 global pandemic.

Dr Karen Logan, one of the study’s co-leads the study, said: “Our analysis shows that during the peak of the pandemic the number of new cases of type 1 diabetes in children was unusually high in two of the hospitals (we studied) compared to previous years.

“When we investigated further, some of these children had active coronavirus or had previously been exposed to the virus.”

Scientists looked at data from youngsters in London hospitals who diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in the first peak of the pandemic. There were 30 cases, which is approximately double the cases seen in the same period compared to previous years.

Of these, 21 children had been tested for coronavirus or its antibodies to establish whether they had been exposed to the virus, with five tested positive for COVID-19.

Logan added: “More research is needed to establish whether there is a definitive link, … but in the meantime we hope clinicians will be mindful of this.

The research was published in the Diabetes Care journal.

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