Children who are diagnosed with diabetes before the age of seven develop a more aggressive form of the disease than seen in teenagers, new research shows.
The study led by a research team from the University of Exeter Medical School found that children diagnosed aged six or under had very few beta cells in their pancreas whereas those diagnosed in their teenage years retained large numbers of the cells.
According to the authors of the study published in Diabetes the findings show for the first time that younger children develop a more aggressive form of the disease.
Co-author Professor Noel Morgan, of the University of Exeter Medical School, said the findings could open the doors to new treatments for young people who develop diabetes.
“It was previously thought that teenagers with type 1 diabetes had lost around 90 per cent of their beta cells but, by looking in their pancreas, we have discovered that this is not true,” he said.
“In fact, those diagnosed in their teens still have many beta cells left – this suggests that the cells are dormant, but not dead.
“If we can find a way to reactivate these cells so that they resume insulin release, we may be able to slow or even reverse progression of this terrible disease,” he said.
The team worked with the University of Oslo and the network of Pancreatic Organ Donors (nPOD) to analyse the largest ever collection of biobanked pancreas samples from people with type 1 diabetes.
They then checked and extended their results against larger databases of samples from America and Europe, which confirmed their results.