13 November 2022
By Bryan Smyth
New research being undertaken in Cork is investigating whether bacteria in the gut may cause diabetes – potentially unlocking a cure for the chronic disease.
In a further step forward, the country’s first national audit of children with the condition is aiming to give youngsters the same standard of care regardless of where they live.
Around 3,000 children live with Type 1 diabetes here – with a further 300-400 diagnosed every year.
But a leading consultant has said the audit, along with advances in technology, is on course to reduce the burden of the diagnosis.
“What we are hoping to do is to arrive at a place in Ireland where we know how many children have Type 1, what their outcomes are and ensure that every child receives the best standard of care,” said Dr Colin Hawkes of Cork University Hospital.
“Disparities exist across the country and it is not going to be an easy fix, but we are certainly moving in a positive direction to try to identify and address them.”
Cork University Hospital is currently building a research programme set to be a world leader in the condition.
Ahead of World Diabetes Day tomorrow (Nov14), Dr Hawkes, who led a major clinical research programme in North America, said his team at CUH’s campus is trying to identify microbes in the intestine that might be driving the condition.
“Microbes make the gut leaky and proteins may be crossing the gut wall and triggering the immune system response,” he said.
“We hope to be able to slow the rate of progression, prevent it and develop new treatments.
“We’re going to keep trying to find a cure, I would be hopeful but we’re not putting all our eggs in one basket.”
He insisted further funding is needed for research into identifying a cure for Type 1, in which patients’ immune systems attack the pancreas, destroying cells which make insulin – crucial for sending glucose (sugars) to cells for energy.
Not properly managed, it increases the risk of blindness, heart disease and kidney failure in adulthood.
CUH is also partnering with experts across UCC to improve how it treats children with the condition, including work that will improve how teenagers take over managing it from their parents.
New investment by the South/South West Hospital Group has meant an extra three diabetes nurses for CUH, while children living with Type 1 now have quicker access to technology such as glucose monitors and insulin pumps.
These remove the need for traditional finger-stick checks, piercing the skin up to 10 times a day to check blood-sugar levels.
A list in CUH of over 120 children awaiting such technology to manage their condition is likely to be cleared by late December.
In terms of future management of diabetes, Dr Hawkes predicts that either technology will advance so much that the disease is more of an inconvenience than a devastating diagnosis – or a cure will be found.
“The problem with a cure is that we don’t fully understand what causes Type 1 and we haven’t been able to figure that out for 100 years.
“Funding is needed to build the children’s diabetes research programme at Cork University Hospital – so if you can help, donate at cuhcharity.ie.”