The genetics of type 1 diabetes - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

The genetics of type 1 diabetes


Imagine having a child with type 1 diabetes -- and then consider what it's like to have three children with the same disease. 

What's worse - you had no idea your children were at risk - because you don't have any of the risk factors.

Barbara Vaughan introduces us to a family participating in studies to help doctors understand more.

Type 1 diabetes affects one of every 500 children and adolescents in the US.

So it's helpful to have families that are willing to provide information that may help doctors pinpoint the genetic factors that cause it.   

The Gould family is a pretty happy bunch, even as they deal with type 1 diabetes.

"When Patrick was diagnosed and we knew nothing about diabetes, it absolutely, I mean, it was personally the worst day of my life," Dave Gould says. 

"In a five second blood test, I mean your life completely changes forever," Ellen Gould says. 

Since neither parent had the disease, the diagnosis was stunning. Yet within a year-and-a half, the Goulds again faced type 1 diabetes - this time with daughter Sarah.

"Probably about the point when we felt we were doing okay is when Sarah was diagnosed, and it was such a shock," Dave Gould says. 

Sarah's diagnosis firmly planted the idea that something more than coincidence was going on.

"It became pretty evident to us that there has to be some sort of a genetic thing going on here, but we don't know where it started," Dave Gould says. 

To help doctors understand the autoimmune disease, the Goulds are taking part in a worldwide study.

"Type one Diabetes TrialNet was established, basically, to provide, to identify ways that we can either prevent or ameliorate the course, soften the impact of type 1 diabetes," Dr. William Russell says. 

Doctor Russell says the risk of developing the disease goes up dramatically if you're closely related to a type 1 diabetic.

"For example, if you had a brother or sister with type one diabetes, your risk goes from an overall risk of about one in 250 to one in 20," he says. 
It's a risk the Gould family's keenly aware of.  Since enrolling in the TrialNet, a third child, Sam, was diagnosed.

"He had no symptoms that we could see, but just through those blood tests we knew that he was going to be diabetic and there was nothing that we could do about it," Ellen Gould says.

The remaining five Gould kids without type one are regularly tested for early signs of the disease.

"We do a screening test in which we look for the antibodies against proteins in the islet cells that we know precede the development of diabetes, often by many months or even years," Dr. Russell says. 

The screening discovered Oliver has early signs of that immune attack. He's now part of an oral insulin study.

"By doing that, you induce what's called 'tolerance,' so that your body doesn't become quite so prone to attack insulin in other places in the body, in particular, in the islet cells," Dr. Russell says. 

It's a strategy they hope will give Oliver, and others, a shot at beating diabetes. 

If you are the sibling, child or other close relative of someone with type 1 diabetes, you may want to look into the diabetes TrialNet studies.  CLICK HERE to visit their website

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