Type 1 diabetes could be diagnosed with a microchip system in the future. A recent article published in Nature Medicine has announced the development of a microchip that can be used to detect the presence of islet cell-targeting autoantibodies in someone suspected of having Type 1 diabetes. The detection of these auto-antibodies that attack the islet cells of the pancreas, which produce insulin, is a confirmation of the person having Type 1 rather than Type 2 diabetes.
The scientists who developed the microchip are with Stanford University and Dr. Brian Feldman was the lead researcher in its development. These researchers developed what is described as a plasmonic gold chip for near-infrared fluorescence-enhanced detection of auto-antibodies that attack islet cells. They showed that this microchip system has high sensitivity (meaning it can detect small amounts) and high specificity (meaning it is good at specifically detecting its target) for diagnosing Type 1 diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease which means it results from the person’s own immune system attacking the cells of the body incorrectly. In the case of Type 1 diabetes, the immune system attacks the islet cells of the pancreas, which are the cells that produce insulin in response to glucose levels in the bloodstream. Type 2 diabetes is not considered to be an autoimmune disease.
Previously, Type 1 diabetes was considered to occur at younger ages (under the age 30 years) and Type 2 diabetes was considered to occur at older ages. However more recently Type 2 diabetes is seen increasingly at younger ages due to environmental factors such as obesity and poor diet. It is also being seen that Type 1 diabetes is being recognized in the adult population in increasing numbers. The current methods for detecting Type 1 diabetes are not able to meet the need for a quick and sure diagnosis of the disease. Therefore, a good diagnostic test that can distinguish Type 1 from Type 2 diabetes in a clinical setting is necessary.
The detection of auto-antibodies against pancreatic antigens is the definitive diagnosis for Type 1 diabetes. Since classical methods to detect these antibodies do not produce results quickly, use of a microchip system may offer a better way to identify the antibodies that are attacking the cells of the pancreas. The microchip system works with a very small blood sample, such as the amount of blood that is produced with the prick of a finger. When the very small amount of blood is placed on the microchip, it automatically measures the level of antibodies. When this is done in a doctor’s office, the results will be known right away and the doctor can proceed with treatment plans immediately.
With current methods, the patient would need to be sent to a lab for blood work and the results would not be known for a period of time. This means treatment would be started later and also it means there is more of a chance that the patient could become “lost from the system” and then not be diagnosed. Another benefit from this new microchip system is it is very portable and could be produced inexpensively. This microchip diagnostic tool for detecting Type 1 diabetes could easily be used throughout the world in the future.
By Margaret Lutze