April 2 (UPI) -- Researchers have developed a genetics score that can identify infants at risk for type 1 diabetes, according to a new study.
The scientists calculated genetic scores from more than 30 genes among 3,498 children with no family history of type 1 diabetes but with gene variants known to convey type 1 diabetes risk. Their findings were published Tuesday in PLOS Medicine.
In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas isn't making insulin or is making very little of the hormone. Insulin enables blood sugar to enter the cells in the body and be converted for use as energy. To make up for the insulin, type 1 diabetics need insulin shots or an insulin pump.
It's usually diagnosed in children, teens and young adults, but it can develop at any age, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
About 0.4 percent of newborns will receive a diagnosis of type 1 diabetes before adulthood, the authors noted. In childhood, they develop autoimmunity to pancreatic beta cells.
Those with the gene variants known to convey type 1 diabetes risk were among the TEDDY study of 421,047 newborn children. The children were screened for high-risk, human leukocyte antigen genotypes for type 1 diabetes at three centers in the United States and one each in Finland, Germany and Sweden between September 2004 and February 2010.
Each participant was enrolled at infancy and followed in 3- to 6-month intervals for 10 years to track any development of islet autoantibodies and subsequent type 1 diabetes.
"The objective of this study was to determine to what extent genetic scores can improve the prediction of type 1 diabetes," according to the study led by Anette Ziegler of the Helmholtz Zentrum Muenchen, Germany.
Researchers found the upper quarter of genetic scores in the children was associated with a greater than 10 percent risk for the presymptomatic stage of multiple islet autoantibodies by age 6. They had nearly a two-fold increase than by high-risk HLA genotypes alone.
Almost half the children who developed presymptomatic or symptomatic diabetes were identified by this score.
The scores were higher in European children than U.S. children.
The finding "greatly extends the possibilities of enrolling participants into clinical trials aimed at evaluating type 1 diabetes prevention strategies that could be applied in infancy and before the development of autoimmunity," the authors say.
The authors said "combining genetic information from multiple risk loci can improve the prediction of disease such as type 1 diabetes."