MU researchers seek further understanding of Type I diabetes

Monday, February 25, 2008 | 1:08 p.m. CST; updated 4:15 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

COLUMBIA — Researchers at the MU School of Medicine are participating in an international clinical study aimed to prevent or delay the onset of Type 1 diabetes.

“MU researchers are currently involved in the Natural History Study, which will help researchers learn more about how Type 1 diabetes occurs,” said Debbie Eichelberger, director of the Office of Clinical Research at the MU School of Medicine.

Eichelberger said the study is divided into three phases. The university is involved in all three phases but is now concentrating on the first part of the study, which involves screening people who may or may not be predisposed to the disease. The results of the first phase determine participants’ involvement in the second and third phases, she said.

Each year the number of people diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes increases, especially in children under the age of five, according to Type 1 Diabetes TrialNet, a global network of diabetes researchers that is affiliated with the MU study.

Some 18.2 million people in the United States, or 6.3 percent of the population, have been diagnosed with some form of diabetes. Five to 10 percent of all people with the disease have Type 1 diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes usually appears suddenly and progresses quickly.

Jennifer Polniak, a Boone Hospital Center certified diabetes educator, said there are so many aspects of the disease that each person faces different challenges each day.

Symptoms of the disease can vary from frequent urination, weight loss, fatigue, nausea and vomiting to more serious complications such as heart disease, stroke, blindness and lower-limb amputations.

Bert Bachrach, director of the pediatric endocrinology and diabetes program at MU, said that MU’s goal is to prevent or delay the onset of Type 1 diabetes as long as possible. If diabetes can be delayed even a few years, those at risk might be able to postpone the serious side effects and challenges of trying to control their glucose levels, he said.

Researchers at MU are looking for family members of people with Type 1 diabetes to participate in the clinical study. They are specifically looking to find people with increased levels of autoantibodies in their blood, which signify an increased risk for developing the disease.

Autoantibodies are proteins that are made by the body’s immune system. If these proteins are present, it could mean that cells in the pancreas that produce insulin are damaged.

Screening involves a simple blood test and is free of charge. Anyone who is a family member of someone with Type 1 diabetes can volunteer to be tested.

“A positive test does not mean you’ll get Type 1 diabetes, but it does mean you have a greater chance of developing Type 1 diabetes,” Eichelberger said.

These autoantibodies can be identified up to 10 years before the possible onset of the disease.

MU is one of more than 150 medical centers in the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia and New Zealand participating in this study.

For more information visit, or if you are interested in participating in the study call the MU School of Medicine Office of Clinical Research at 573-882-4894.

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