The news was announced today about a new classification approach for the development of type 1 diabetes (T1D). Three distinct stages will mark the development of the disease – from its earliest pre symptomatic stages to full blown onset. The aim of staging is to help preserve more insulin-producing beta cell function and make further strides toward prevention.
JDRF and the American Diabetes Association, with several leading diabetes research and clinical organizations, collaborated on the development of the staging approach. The American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, the International Society for Pediatric and Adolescent Diabetes and The Leona M. and Harry B. Charitable Trust have already endorsed it.
“We know type 1 diabetes begins long before insulin dependence occurs, and the best time to halt the disease’s progress is before the loss of insulin-producing pancreatic beta cells,” said JDRF’s Chief Scientific Officer, Richard Insel, M.D. “Decades of research in at-risk individuals have provided the foundation for developing this new three-stage diagnostic approach, which we believe will help optimize the design of clinical trials to prevent symptomatic disease and more quickly evaluate interventions.”
Desmond Schatz, M.D., president-elect, medicine and science at American Diabetes Association explained, “Type 1 diabetes is diagnosed relatively late in the disease process.” Now pre-type 1 diabetes can be identified both in higher risk relatives and the lower risk general population by using a combination of genetic, immunologic and metabolic markers and categorization of the natural history of the early disease process which is now possible.” According to Schatz this will facilitate prevention studies at different stages of the disease process.
Personally, I always keep hearing as well that figuring out how to prevent type 1 diabetes may be necessary before we find a cure.
Regarding staging, two years ago I wrote on The Huffington Post that we should characterize type 2 diabetes in stages – “The Lie That’s Killing Us: Pre-Diabetes.” Diagnosing people with “pre-diabetes” doesn’t inspire the action that calling it stage 1 of type 2 diabetes likely would. Many of the current 80 million people with “pre-diabetes” will go on to get type 2 diabetes. Yet, if they heard that they had stage 1 type 2 diabetes they might well make the lifestyle changes – eating a healthier diet, losing weight, being active and possibly medication – that might prevent it. I’m still in favor of this.
For myself as a type 1, I remember how surprised I was years ago when endocrinologist Gerald Bernstein, who ran the Friedman Diabetes Center in Manhattan, told me that while I got type 1 diabetes at age eighteen, I probably began developing it when I was twelve. And I have a theory why that might be so.
We talk about type 1 diabetes coming on like a bullet train but apparently there’s a slow escalation and now researchers are able to see distinct metabolic markers of the disease’s progression. Marking the stages of the disease will help facilitate prevention studies, and hopefully one day, prevention – and a cure.