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A push to screen children for diabetes at birth in Finland has identified about 75 percent of those who later developed diabetes at an early age.

Finland has one of the highest rates of type 1 diabetes in the world, with 36.5 of every 100,000 children in the country developing the disease, according to the World Heath Organization. Identifying at-risk children shortly after birth will allow preventive measures to be taken in hopes of either delaying the onset of type 1 diabetes or preventing it altogether, wrote researchers in the March issue of Diabetologia.

Unlike DPT-1 trials on first-degree relatives of people with type 1 diabetes, which only catch a small percentage of the total population, Finland’s Diabetes Prediction and Prevention Project is promising to identify a high percentage of the total population. The extensive testing is being conducted at three centers and represents nearly one-fifth of all births in Finland.

Ninety-five percent of parents asked are saying yes to requests to test their newborns’ cord blood for the markers of type 1 diabetes. If markers are present, parents are asked to bring their children in at specified intervals for further study. About 75 percent of parents whose newborns were identified as being at-risk have participated in follow-up studies.

During the first four years of the on-going study, which began in November 1994, only 55 percent of the children who went on to develop type 1 diabetes were identified. Researchers now use a different marker. If that marker had received more focus in the beginning of the study, 80 percent of cases would have been predicted.

Researchers note that there are no therapies now that prevent or delay type 1 diabetes. However, they say, safe treatments that attempt to prevent or delay onset are available for human trials.

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