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Yolande Hutchinson
UNSW Sydney External Engagement
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Researchers at UNSW Sydney, together with their team from partnering institutions, have been awarded $8.25 million to continue their study titled The Environmental Determinants of Islet Autoimmunity (ENDIA).

ENDIA is the first study worldwide to recruit from pregnancy and follow babies into childhood to find the causes of type 1 diabetes. With the recruitment of 1500 participants completed at the end of last year, the new funding will be used to continue the follow-up of this cohort for a further three years.  

The ENDIA team, including one of the study’s Chief Investigators, UNSW Professor Bill Rawlinson and colleague, Professor Maria Craig, has received the funding from JDRF Australia and The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust.

Professor Rawlinson said: “This is an internationally unique study where multiple environmental factors, including viruses, will be tested. It gives us the opportunity for unparalleled understanding of how type 1 diabetes can arise and may be prevented in the future.

“Our research so far has found many viruses are very common in women during pregnancy and infants who are at risk of developing type 1 diabetes. The ENDIA Study results may move the world towards developing a viral vaccine to prevent type 1 diabetes.”

Type 1 diabetes in Australian children is twice as common as it was 20 years ago. The ENDIA team will investigate a number of environmental factors that are believed to contribute to the disease in children, including those that may protect against it. These factors include growth during pregnancy and early life, the method of delivery (natural birth versus caesarean section), the mother’s nutrition during pregnancy, infant feeding (breastfeeding and/or formula), the duration of breastfeeding and the child’s nutrition, the child’s immune system and when the child received vaccines and exposure to viruses during pregnancy and early life.

Professor Craig said: “Type 1 diabetes is becoming a common chronic condition affecting children and adults. We have team members, relatives and friends who have type 1 diabetes. Despite the discovery of insulin 99 years ago, we still cannot prevent or cure this disease. ENDIA is an amazing opportunity for new approaches to understanding and preventing further children from developing this condition."

The ENDIA Study sees infants in the research cohort every three to six months until they are at least three years old. The youngest child in the study will be born in August and the eldest is currently seven years old.

Longitudinal studies, such as ENDIA, take a long time to recruit and follow up participants before making critical research findings. They require significant and ongoing funding to be able to continue. It took the ENDIA Study seven years to recruit its 1500 participants.

The participants of the study include babies (from the pregnancy aged up to 6 months) who have an immediate relative with type 1 diabetes, for example, the baby’s mother, father, brother or sister.

Type 1 diabetes results when the body’s immune system destroys its own insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. Before type 1 diabetes presents with symptoms, this autoimmune response can be detected by measuring antibodies in the bloodstream. These antibodies are known as islet autoantibodies and the condition is known as islet autoimmunity.