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Children Testing Positive for Diabetes, Celiac

CU School of Medicine


Researchers at the Barbara Davis Center for Diabetes at The University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus announced today that through their Autoimmunity Screening for Kids (ASK) Research Program, they are currently finding that one in thirty children, 2-17 years old, participating in the program are screening positive for early type 1 diabetes and/or celiac disease, the two most common autoimmune diseases in children. 

The screening uses a combination of four immunological markers called autoantibodies allowing early detection of type 1 diabetes at a stage when blood sugar is still normal, but will inevitably increase without medical intervention. Celiac disease is detected using a single autoantibody that correlates very well with the extent of the damage in the intestines and development of additional complications in the bones, liver, skin and other organs. 

Marian Rewers, MD, PhD, professor of pediatrics and medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and executive director of the Barbara Davis Center for Diabetes, acknowledges that while the number of participants testing positive is consistent with predictions from smaller studies, it is likely alarming to the general public. He states: “ASK helps parents and caregivers of children detected by screening to get the much-needed monitoring, education and resources needed to curtail, if not prevent often catastrophic consequences.“ 

Rewers emphasizes: “The financial and emotional costs of waiting until severe symptoms appear can be devastating. What we’re doing here helps minimize the growing occurrence of undiagnosed children ending up in emergency rooms and intensive care units with life-threatening complications such as diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA).” 

The ASK Program is also spotlighting many of the deep-rooted misconceptions about both the prevalence of and risk factors associated with these very serious conditions. 

“Currently, about 1 percent of Denver children receive treatment for childhood diabetes or celiac disease. ASK results mean that for each diagnosed child in our community, there are 3 more who have early disease and are not aware of it,” says Rewers. ASK Program investigators emphasize that 92% of patients with diagnosed or screening-detected childhood diabetes or celiac disease have no close relatives who are affected by these diseases. Importantly, obesity, poor diet and lack of exercise are not risk factors for childhood diabetes (clinically referred to as type 1 diabetes or “T1D”) - as opposed to type 2 diabetes. “Some parents are surprised that we offer diabetes screening to their active and fit children. We are quite confident that ASK findings will help to change this misconception,” says Rewers. 

In terms of celiac disease, the selection and popularity of gluten-free foods in mainstream retail channels is rapidly growing. Parents increasingly want to know whether these food choices could help their children. This has contributed to their interest in ASK since the results of screening help to make the decision whether or not to go “gluten-free.” 

As Rewers notes: “A gluten-free diet is mandatory for those who are diagnosed with celiac disease.” When you have celiac disease, a gluten-free diet is not a faddish lifestyle choice, it’s a treatment that makes the patient feel better almost immediately and prevents a lot of problems down the road.” 

Information on the ASK Program, along with a constantly growing list of screening sites and times can be found online at Visitors to the site can also view candid video testimonials of ASK Program participants and researchers, as well as stories of children and their parents and caregivers facing the challenges of childhood diabetes and celiac disease. Specific program information can also be obtained by calling the ASK team at the Barbara Davis Center at 303-724-1275. 

About The ASK Program 

The Autoimmunity Screening for Kids (ASK) Program, operated by the Barbara Davis Center for Diabetes at The University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus is a free screening program to detect childhood diabetes and celiac in children aged 2-17. It is currently available only in the Denver Metro area. With the goal of screening 50,000-70,000 children over the next three years and funded by JDRF International and The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust in 2016, it was established to improve timely diagnosis and provide access to early interventions, education and resources for parents and caregivers of those who test positive. Ultimately, the program is working to show that a nationwide routine screening during pediatric check-ups will benefit children across the country.