Scientists have discovered a fourth antibody in human blood, screening for which can help detect individuals who are genetically predisposed to type 1 diabetes more accurately.
Currently, three antibodies in the blood are measured to diagnose diabetes before tits onset through a simple blood test, which gives a 90 per cent chance of predicting the disease.
"ZnT8 shows great value as a diagnostic tool and we believe testing for it will very quickly become routine in all of the ongoing clinical research studies. For example, this fourth autoantigen will find immediate use in identifying individuals with a family history of diabetes or a genetic predisposition to the disease for recruitment into clinical trials aimed at preventing diabetes," he added.
The researchers analysed blood from children, who had been studied from birth to the onset of the disease as part of Diabetes Autoimmunity Study in the Young (DAISY) at the Barbara Davis Center, along with hundreds of newly-diagnosed patients and their unaffected relatives as controls.
They said that 70 per cent of diabetics tested positive for the antibody in comparison with less than one percent of controls.
The researchers revealed that ZnT8 stuck out as a protein that was only expressed in insulin secreting cells and associated with the mechanism of insulin release, making it a good candidate on which to follow up.
"Ultimately, we'd like to be able to prevent diabetes from occurring in the first place. It could be possible by catching it in the very early stages and then manipulating the immune system. ZnT8 itself might be part of that therapy since it has been shown in diabetes-prone mice that administering antigen as a vaccine can prevent disease, a similar approach that is currently used to counter allergies. We also hope that the same genomics-based approach will be applicable to other autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis and lupus," said Dr. Hutton.
The researchers believe that they will ultimately be able to define further auto-antigens using the same procedures, and raise the predictive value of combined auto-antibody tests to the required accuracy rate of 99.7 percent.
If they become successful in achieving their aim, it will be possible to prevent diabetes by screening very young children, and to catch the disease in its earliest stages