In an Australian-first, a Sutherland Shire school is participating in a type 1 diabetes national screening pilot.
The research project aims to identify children with early-stage type 1 diabetes (T1D) with a simple finger prick. Its goal is to offer screening for families, with the long-term aim of making early detection available to every child through routine checks.
Australia would be one of the first countries in the world to adopt this type of of routine childhood screening if the pilot is successful.
More than 100 pupils from kindergarten and year four at Inaburra School, Bangor, have been invited to participate, with their samples being collected by registered nurses and sent to a laboratory for analysis.
Any child who is identified as having one or more antibodies for the condition will be notified and introduced to a healthcare team that can support their needs.
Type 1 diabetes is one of the most common chronic, lifelong conditions affecting children and adolescents. It occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. Insulin helps the body convert glucose (sugar) from food into fuel, and without it, glucose can build up in the bloodstream to dangerous levels. It affects one in 300 children in Australia, with 90 per cent having no family history of the condition.
Dorota Pawlak, Chief Scientific Officer Dorota Pawlak of JDRF Australia, which is funding the pilots, says the screening seeks to give parents advanced warning that their child may be developing TD1.
"Early signs of type 1 diabetes can be missed, and they often don't occur until the condition has progressed leaving children at potential risk of serious complications and hospitalisation from the condition," Dr Pawlak said. "As a result, at least one in three Australian children with type 1 diabetes are not diagnosed until they require emergency medical care.
"Screening in childhood has been shown to support earlier diagnosis before the child becomes seriously unwell. While there is no cure yet for the condition, early detection may prevent serious health problems and aims to support a better prognosis and long-term management of the condition.
"In the future, it could also fast-track access to emerging therapies that can delay the progression of type 1 diabetes, as those who could benefit would be identified early."
The study is led by former Inaburra student Kirstine Bell from the University of Sydney's Charles Perkins Institute. Dr Bell says it takes just a few drops of blood collected in a sample.
"Kindergarten and year four are at the ideal ages to identify TD1 in its early stages. If a child has not shown signs of having early-stage type 1 diabetes by the time they are 10 years old, it is unlikely they will develop the condition in childhood," Dr Bell said.
Inaburra Business Manager Louise Hambridge, who was diagnosed with the condition 40 years ago, said the idea was to get children detected early.
"We have a number of students who have diabetes and this is about what else can we do so it doesn't become a bigger problem," she said. "The kids have been great, they get stickers, choose their band aid and get an ice block."
Want more local news? Sign up for your free weekly newsletter.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.