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Landmark study screening children for type 1 diabetes is gaining momentum in Wessex

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Wessex is part of a major national research project that aims to assess children’s risk of developing type 1 diabetes at the earliest possible stage.

Launched in Wessex with South Central Ambulance Service (SCAS) in July this year, the ELSA study (EarLy Surveillance for Autoimmune Diabetes) screens children for type 1 diabetes using a simple finger stick blood test. It is funded by Diabetes UK and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF).

In addition to the first ELSA screening in Wessex that took place at a Wellbeing event at the Vedic Society Hindu Temple in Southampton, in July, SCAS has also taken the study to a variety of other community settings and GP practices. Recruitment to the study (children aged 3 to 13) in Wessex now stands at 332.

Also joining SCAS on delivery of the study is Solent NHS Trust who will be running the study in similar settings, as well as schools, in the coming months. They plan to recruit in schools in Portsmouth, Fareham and Gosport, and Southampton in the new year. The study is due to run until August 2024.

3 in 1000 children are at high risk of developing type 1 diabetes in the future. The only way these children can be found is through screening. 

Screening allows type 1 diabetes to be picked up sooner. This stops children from becoming too unwell and prevents children from needing to go into hospital as an emergency admission for type 1 diabetes. Children at high risk can also be followed up closely to monitor antibodies (protein markers) and glucose over time to see when treatment for type 1 diabetes to be started. Children found to be at high risk could also enter research trials, testing new treatments which aim to delay or prevent the start of type 1 diabetes. 

Martina Brown, study Principal Investigator at SCAS, said: “Screening for type 1 diabetes is not a standard practice in the NHS at present so this really is a fantastic opportunity for everyone to be involved - and could form the basis for a national screening programme.”

“The benefit is clear in terms of identifying those at risk earlier and teaching children and parents about recognising the acute symptoms and being prepared for emergencies.

“They will understand how to respond to these situations effectively as a result and will receive access to further clinical trials to tackle the disease which include new treatments to prevent or delay the condition.”

Rebecca Cowan, Research Nurse for Solent NHS Trust: “We are proud to be part of this study and contribute to something that will help change lives for the better for so many children.  This study aims to test the feasibility of how this could be rolled out into the NHS within the next few years, and testing in schools could be part of this.  We will be joining Birmingham and London who have already begun the Elsa study in schools, and we will be offering this to schools in Wessex from January 2024.”

For more information visit the study website