Nearly half of all children who develop Type 1 diabetes don’t know they have the disease until they end up in the hospital with a condition that puts them at risk of coma or even death.
Researchers in Virginia have set out to see if a genetic test for Type 1 diabetes can eliminate many of those emergencies.
“The risk of Type 1 diabetes is about half genetic and half unknown,” says Stephen Rich, director of the Center for Public Health Genomics at the University of Virginia. His team developed a test that can identify people who carry that genetic susceptibility.
Unlike most genetic conditions, there’s no single gene responsible for Type 1 diabetes risk. Over the years, scientists have identified dozens of gene variations that each contribute a small amount. The test developed at U.Va. looks at all those variants and explains about 90% of the known genetic risk.
“In a complex disease like Type 1 diabetes, we’re probably unique in that we understand the vast majority of the genetic risk,” he says. In comparison, most tests that identify multiple gene variants linked to a disease or trait explain only a smaller fraction of the genetic component – and as a result they are far less useful.
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