Pediatric type 1 diabetes may cause slower development of the brain, according to a study conducted by the Diabetes Research in Children Network (DirecNet). The research demonstrated that children who suffer from the disease have slower brain growth compared to healthy children, and the scientists behind the study believe it may be related to the regular state of hyperglycemia. The study entitled “Longitudinal Assessment of Neuroanatomical and Cognitive Differences in Young Children with Type 1 Diabetes: Association with Hyperglycemia,” was recently published in the journal Diabetes, from the American Diabetes Association and was funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
“Our results show the potential vulnerability of young developing brains to abnormally elevated glucose levels, even when the diabetes duration has been relatively brief,” explained the lead author of the study, Nelly Mauras, MD, Chief of the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes & Metabolism at Nemours Children’s Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida, in a press release.
The research team from the Diabetes Research in Children Network, which includes five clinical pediatric diabetes centers and a coordinating center, examined pediatric brain development of patients between the ages of 4 and 9 years old, suffering from type 1 diabetes, through structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and cognitive tests.
The main purpose of the study was to understand whether abnormal levels of blood glucose influenced the structure and functioning of the brain at a young age. In addition, the pediatric participants were also submitted to blood sugar monitoring with continuous glucose sensors.
“Despite the best efforts of parents and diabetes care team, about 50 percent of all blood glucose concentrations during the study were measured in the high range. Remarkably, the cognitive tests remained normal, but whether these observed changes will ultimately impact brain function will need further study,” said Mauras. “As better technology develops, we hope to determine if the differences observed with brain imaging can improve with better glucose control”
Monitoring revealed that the diabetic children’s brains register an overall and regional slower growth of both gray and white matter, when compared to the healthy children. The alterations were related to higher and more unstable levels of blood sugar.
Even though the investigators did not note any significant differences in the cognitive function of a diebetic of 18-months and healthy children, the results of the brain imaging suggest that children with diabetes had differences in brain maturation, including in the visual-spatial processing, executive functions and working memory.
“This is the thing that parents always worry about when it comes to a child with a chronic illness,” added the study’s co-author Karen Winer, MD, a pediatric endocrinologist at the National Institutes of Health’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. “Does it affect their brain? The good news here is that there may be some viable solutions on the horizon that parents should be aware of.”