Blood Sample Can Predict Type 1 Diabetes


By Alexis Mantell

Supported with funding from the Canadian Diabetes Association, a Vancouver researcher and his team have developed a simple blood test that, for the first time, can reliably predict the development of type 1 diabetes.

While the blood test is currently only suited for mice, future work on a human model could one day mean a simple, quick and inexpensive way to predict who is likely to develop type 1 diabetes. Earlier testing would allow people at high risk for type 1 to be treated before their pancreas ceases to produce insulin and they develop diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune illness, in which the body’s own white blood cells ‘attack’ the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas. Diabetes results when a large number of the beta cells have been destroyed and the pancreas can no longer produce insulin.

The study’s lead investigator, Dr. Rusung Tan of the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at British Columbia’s Children’s Hospital, explains that his team has developed a method for measuring the level of the rogue white blood cells or ‘T-cells’ which destroy the insulin producing beta cells. Previously, scientists weren’t sure these killer T cells were present in the blood in high enough levels to be detected.

“Our research showed three important things: It’s possible to detect these rogue T-cells in the blood; we can measure them to reliably predict which mice will become diabetic; and, we think this test will also prove useful in predicting other autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis and some autoimmune forms of liver cirrhosis.

The Canadian Diabetes Association has supported Dr. Tan’s work for the last two years as part of the $5 million it provides to Canadian diabetes researchers each year.

“Financial support from the Canadian Diabetes Association enabled us to complete this important study. Now we can use these results to seek international support and take this test from mice to humans,” said Dr. Tan.

Dr. Tan’s study was published January 15 in the Journal of Clinical Investigation. To view a PDF of the article, go to

More than two million Canadians have diabetes and this number is expected to increase dramatically as the population ages. Risk factors include being over the age of 45, being overweight and being related to a person with diabetes.

In 2003, the Canadian Diabetes Association marks 50 years of improving lives. With a presence in more than 150 communities, the Association works to prevent diabetes and improve the quality of life for those affected, through research, education, service and advocacy. Our broad range of programs and services, our successes in advocacy, and our continued support of Canadian diabetes research are only realized through the generous support and guidance of our volunteers and donors. The Canadian Diabetes Association – Know who to turn to.