How a £6 blood test could end daily insulin injections
A SIMPLE blood test could allow some patients with diabetes to come off their gruelling regime of daily insulin injections.
Doctors say the test has found that some patients diagnosed with type 1 diabetes could be treated with tablets instead.
The finding could revolutionise the lives of many who are on a ‘miserable’ regime of multiple daily blood tests and injections.
Doctors at the Western General Hospital in Edinburgh, who made the discovery, say all patients diagnosed with type 1 diabetes should be given the simple £6 screening test.
And they are hopeful it will soon be rolled out across Scotland.
The discovery came when a patient at the hospital’s Metabolic Unit, who had been previously diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, was actually found to have a rare genetic form of the condition instead.
This was only picked up when the clinic introduced a C-peptide blood test into its screening, which measures how much insulin patients are producing.
The doctors found she was producing a small amount of insulin that could be boosted with tablets instead of injections.
The ‘surprise’ discovery led the clinic to screen hundreds more patients previously diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, and several were found to have forms of diabetes that meant they could be treated with tablets.
Around seven of the 400 patients screened have been able to completely come off insulin, and doctors expect more will follow.
The clinic is understood to be the first in the UK to have used the test to routinely screen all of its patients in this way.
Professor Mark Strachan, a consultant in diabetes and endocrinology at the Western General Hospital, believes thousands of patients diagnosed with type 1 diabetes across the UK could take tablets instead of insulin.
He said: ‘Type 1 diabetes really is a miserable condition and patients have to have injections every day, or use an insulin pump, and do fingerprick blood tests. It is very restrictive.
‘I believe everyone who has
been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes should have this test. Most of them will still need to take insulin but hundreds of people across Scotland, and thousands across the UK, may not.’
In type 1 diabetes, the body’s immune system attacks the cells of the pancreas that make insulin, which means patients need to have regular insulin injections.
In some rare genetic forms of diabetes, the pancreas is not able to produce enough insulin but tablets can boost production.
Some patients with type 1 diabetes, particularly those diagnosed many years ago, may actually have type 2 diabetes, or a rare genetic form of the disease, or even a different form of type 1 diabetes which means they are still producing insulin. These groups are the patients the screening test can detect.
Type 2 diabetes, which is linked with obesity, is the commonest form of the condition, affecting about 87 per cent of the estimated 250,000 Scots with the condition.
The majority of the remainder have type 1 diabetes, which is caused by a fault in the body’s immune system which leads it to kill the vital cells in the pancreas. But some patients have rare forms of diabetes, where a genetic abnormality means they are not able to produce enough insulin.
Dr Emily Burns, head of research communications at Diabetes UK, said: ‘Different forms of diabetes can be difficult to accurately diagnose every time. Tests are available to spot rare forms of diabetes, or to identify misdiagnosis, which can be life-changing for a person.’
A Scottish Government spokesman said: ‘Accurate diagnosis and treatment of diabetes are key priorities for the Scottish Government.
‘We are considering the results found from the work undertaken in Edinburgh and the implications of wider use in Scotland.’
‘Hard to diagnose accurately’
Patients: ‘Miserable’ routine
Providing a helping hand: Josh Littlejohn at the Social Bite Village in Granton