The TEDDY Study may sound cute, but study participants Chase and Tyler Charles, seven and four, can tell you it’s a bit of an ordeal. The Charles siblings of Suwanee have donated blood samples regularly since birth. Their mom, Kris, dutifully saves fingernail clippings, logs food diaries, and collects water samples.
The Environmental Determinants of Diabetes in the Young (TEDDY) project, a collaboration by six clinical centers in the United States and Europe—including the Center for Biotechnology and Genomic Medicine at Georgia Regents University—studies how genetics and environment impact type 1 diabetes, often called juvenile diabetes. The Charles kids are just two of some 9,000 taking part in the multidecade project.
In 2013, center and study director Jin-Xiong She, Ph.D, received $10 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health to continue the research he started in 2004. He aims to figure out how diet, exercise, or environment might trigger kids carrying high-risk type 1 diabetes genes to develop the disease. Screened at birth for those genes, TEDDY participants will be followed until they’re fifteen or they’ve developed diabetes—whichever comes first.
With more than 15,000 new cases of type 1 diabetes diagnosed in children each year, the goal is not only to find a cure, but hopefully to prevent it from ever developing, says She. There are many theories, some controversial, about which environmental factors could contribute to diabetes onset.
While She won’t speculate about study results, he is confident that within five years, TEDDY will have shed significant light on what steps parents can take to help prevent the disease from ever developing in their children. “We’ve accumulated a lot of samples and a lot of data, and now we are trying to put the puzzle together,” She says.
This article originally appeared in our November 2013 issue.