It is 10 a.m. on a Monday morning in October. Anton, his little sister Klara and mum Cecilia are visiting the Teddy Clinic. Once every three months they come to meet a nurse who does a blood test on Anton and then goes through his recent eating habits and anything particular that has happened in their lives that could be significant. Anton and Klara play with a wooden train on rails in one of the consulting rooms.
“Of course it was difficult to begin with when we found out that Anton was at a higher risk. But it isn’t really something we think about now; we live our lives as normal”, says Cecilia.
Anton is used to coming to the clinic, and, if he and his family want to, the researchers will follow his development until he reaches the age of 15.
“For me it went without saying that we would take part. It is hoped that this could help children in the future”, says Cecilia Nordqvist.
Only a few of the children who have a raised risk of developing type 1 diabetes go on to develop the disease. The researchers want to find out what it is that causes some children to get the disease while others are unaffected. A total of 8 600 children from Sweden, the USA, Finland and Germany are taking part; 2 225 of them are from Skåne. Since the project started in 2004, 27 of the children from Skåne have developed diabetes and around 100 have developed antibodies against their beta cells, which can be a preliminary stage in the disease. Åke Lernmark, Professor of Experimental Diabetes Research at the Lund University Diabetes Centre, says that this is a sufficiently high number of children to make it statistically interesting to look at their blood tests. So far, he and his colleagues have observed at least one important common denominator among the children who have developed antibodies.
“The children have been ill, often with stomach ache, but without getting a fever. Illness with high fever, on the other hand, appears to protect against antibodies that attack the children’s beta cells”, says Åke Lernmark, who suspects that a stomach virus could cause the children to develop antibodies.
Extensive lab work has now begun in which the children’s stool samples, which are regularly sent in to the Teddy study, will be analysed. This is expected to be completed in summer 2012 at the earliest.
“If it turned out that it is a virus that is responsible for the children developing antibodies against their beta cells, it shouldn’t take more than a year or two for the vaccine manufacturers to develop a vaccine”, says Åke Lernmark.
Teddy is financed by the American National Institute of Health (NIH). The study will run until 2024.