Nationwide diabetes study enters next stage

Professor Jenny Couper

Professor Jenny Couper

The Environmental Determinants of Islet Autoimmunity (ENDIA) Study into the causes of type 1 diabetes has entered its next phase. 1500 children who have a first-degree relative with type 1 diabetes will be followed for three years from the pregnancy.

Led by Professor Jenny Couper from the University of Adelaide’s Robinson Research Institute and the Women’s and Children’s Hospital, Adelaide, the nationwide study has received $8.25 million.

“In Australia, New Zealand, UK and US, type 1 diabetes in children is twice as common as it was 30 years ago, and it is four to six times more common in parts of Europe,” says Professor Jenny Couper.

“This increase is because our modern environment has changed and if we can understand exactly what in the environment triggers, or protects against the disease, we can modify these exposures to prevent type 1 diabetes-so called primary prevention.

“Little is known about what triggers a child to develop islet autoimmunity. We are studying all the big changes in diet and lifestyle in our modern life and the interactions these have with the bacterial and viral communities that live in or on our bodies during pregnancy and early childhood”

Australia’s ENDIA Study is unique because it starts in early pregnancy to understand what precipitates developing the first stages of diabetes in infancy. ENDIA completed recruitment of 1500 children at the end of 2019 and, will follow them for as long as possible to store a large biobank of samples. The aim is to unravel what is changing and why around the time these children begin the progression to diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition in which the body’s own immune system starts to attack the cells in the pancreas, which produces insulin. Although type 1 diabetes can develop at any age, it is most commonly diagnosed around puberty. However, the early markers of type 1 diabetes (autoantibodies) can be detected from a blood test in the first few years of life.

“Little is known about what triggers a child to develop islet autoimmunity. We are studying all the big changes in diet and lifestyle in our modern life and the interactions these have with the bacterial and viral communities that live in or on our bodies during pregnancy and early childhood.”Professor Jenny Couper

$3.6 million out of the total $8.25 million, donated by JDRF Australia and the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, will be used by the University to study participants in South Australia and regional Australia.

Around 1 in 8,000 Australians (2,742 people or 12 cases per 100,000) were diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2017.

Almost 3 in 5 (60%) of new cases of type 1 diabetes were among children and young people under 25 years (AIHW, 2017).

The ENDIA Study has received previous funding from JDRF Australia, JDRF International, The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, and the NHMRC. This current funding was provided by the Australian Type 1 Diabetes Clinical Research Network led by JDRF Australia and the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust. JDRF Australia received funding from the Australian Government’s Medical Research Future Fund.

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