A new study hopes to uncover the causes of type-1 diabetes - and to test whether a drug currently used in treating the condition could also be a tool of prevention.
Based in Scotland, the autoimmune diabetes Accelerator Prevention Trial (Adapt) aims to question previous theories of type-1 diabetes and test an alternative. Previously, the condition has been thought of as an autoimmune disease that essentially makes the immune system malfunction and attack insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas.
This trial aims to assess whether an alternative theory put forward by Professor Terence Wilkin of the University of Exeter Medical School could explain the illness. He suggests that modern lifestyle factors, such as activity levels and diet, may be a factor in the development of the illness.
Currently, there is no way of preventing the disease. As well as ascertaining whether lifestyle is a causal factor, Adapt aims to find out whether metformin, a drug currently use to treat diabetes, may also be able to prevent it.
To carry out the study, scientists will be contacting some 6,400 families in Scotland, all of whom have children who have a parent or sibling with the illness. They will be offered a blood test to see whether they are at high risk of developing the disease or not and, if they are, will be given the option to try metformin as a potential preventative treatment.
It is hoped that the study will provide valuable information on the nature of type-1 diabetes and how it may be prevented - especially as instances of the illness are rising. It typically strikes below the age of 40, and often in childhood, when it comes a lifelong condition that needs to be managed into old age.
New figures published in the Lancet journal show that the overall levels of diabetes across the world have risen dramatically in recent years. In 1980, some 108 million people across the world were recorded as having the disease; today, this figure is 422 million.