How Diabetes in Kids Differs From That in Teens

Younger children with diabetes have more aggressive form of disease compared to teenagers


Diabetes in kids is different. In particular, it's different for younger children compared to teens.

That's the message of a new study from the University of Exeter. The researchers found children diagnosed with diabetes under the age of six have very few insulin-producing cells left. Those who are diagnosed as teens still have large numbers of these cells.

Lead author Noel Morgan, PhD, said in a press release, "This is incredibly exciting, and 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 ... we have discovered that this is not true.”

Dr. Morgan specializes in endocrinology and is the Director of the Institute of Biomedical & Clinical Science at the University of Exeter Medical School.

Insulin, the hormone that regulates blood sugar, is produced by beta cells in the pancreas. Type 1 diabetes occurs when these cells stop producing insulin. In children and teens, diabetes occurs because a condition called insulinitis destroys the beta cells.

Dr. Morgan and colleagues analyzed a large collection of pancreas samples from people with type 1 diabetes. The tissue samples used for the study came from Professor Alan Foulis, who bequeathed samples from a previous study to the University of Exeter Medical School when he retired from the University of Glasgow.

The researchers confirmed their initial results by checking them against a larger database of samples from American and Europe.

Dr. Morgan and team found that children who were diagnosed with the disease before the age of seven had almost no beta cells.

Those diagnosed as teens still retained large numbers of beta cells. The teens' beta cells still didn't produce enough insulin, however.

Dr. Morgan noted in the press release, “In fact, those diagnosed in their teens still have many beta cells left - this suggests that the cells are dormant, but not dead.” This is important because it suggests treatment for teens could be targeted to increase insulin production.

Dr Morgan commented, “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."

In younger children the current focus of the treatment is insulin replacement. The new findings suggest that in children, treatment might focus on stopping cell destruction.

The study was published in the February issue of Diabetes.

Funding for the study was provided by the European Union and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

None of the authors reported a conflict of interest.