Berlin, January 22nd 2019 – This campaign will have impact in Germany: Since January 22, “Sche1sstyp” – a pun, literally “shit type”– has been emblazoned in large letters across 1500 posters in Munich, Berlin, Hanover and Dresden as well as on more than 560 info screens throughout Germany. The campaign was initiated by scientists of Helmholtz Zentrum München, a partner within the German Center for Diabetes Research (DZD). The topic it addresses, however, is very serious indeed: The cross-media campaign entitled “A World Without 1” is dedicated to the early detection and prevention of type 1 diabetes, the most common metabolic disease in children and adolescents. Though the condition remains incurable, ongoing studies aim to detect the disease and prevent its onset at an early stage. To attract as many supporters as possible, researchers are now turning to the public at large.
The start of the campaign was orchestrated by a press conference in Berlin: a high-caliber panel led by Prof. Anette-Gabriele Ziegler, Director of the Institute for Diabetes Research at Helmholtz Zentrum München, welcomed the journalists to the building of the federal press conference. After years of research into the causes of type 1 diabetes, Ziegler and her team have been able to develop a genetic test to identify children at risk at an early stage. Furthermore, clinical studies are currently underway to prevent the onset of the disease.*
“Translational research, i.e. the rapid and efficient implementation of preclinical research into clinical development and application, is of immense importance to us”, Prof. Otmar D. Wiestler, President of the Helmholtz Association, stressed at the beginning of the event. “As the biggest research organization in Germany, it is our duty not just to conduct research for the sake of knowledge but also to offer society practical solutions to pressing problems. Without doubt, one such problem is type 1 diabetes, a metabolic disease that affects nearly 350,000 people in Germany with a growing number of cases. Yet public awareness of this disease is still low.”
Prof. Anette-Gabriele Ziegler, the initiator of the project, then described in clear terms how best to tackle this problem: “At the Institute for Diabetes Research of Helmholtz Zentrum München, we have joined forces with other research institutions and hospitals – mainly within the framework of the international research project GPPAD – with the aim of improving the care for people with type 1 diabetes through early detection and preventing the onset of the disease. With the help of screening and prevention studies, we want to ensure that children with early-stage type 1 diabetes who have a high genetic risk will receive treatment to prevent the clinical manifestation of the disease. Our vision is a world without type 1 diabetes: A World Without 1!”
Professor Marion Kiechle, Director of the Gynecology Unit at Klinikum rechts der Isar of the Technical University of Munich, underscored the importance of preventive medicine today: “I’m convinced that prevention is the medicine of the future, and I myself am already conducting studies on the prevention of breast cancer with my team. There is no doubt that in many cases preventive care is best begun in childhood. The newborn screening, which has been carried out in Germany for around 50 years now, was a milestone in primary medical care, and I think we should certainly discuss whether type 1 diabetes should also be included in the list of diseases tested for in this way. If research into type 1 diabetes continues to make such big strides that may soon cease to be a question at all.”
This aspect was also emphasized by Dr. Astrid Glaser, Managing Director of the German Center for Diabetes Research: “The research that Anette Ziegler and her team are pursuing has the potential to prevent type 1 diabetes in the future. I am delighted that the outstanding work of the scientists has resulted in the fact that findings from basic research are now being further investigated in clinical trials coordinated from Germany.”
One such scientist is Prof. Dr. med. Olga Kordonouri, Deputy Medical Director of the AUF DER BULT Children’s and Youth Hospital in Hanover. She runs the local study center and deals with those affected everyday: “Of course it’s a blessing for type 1 diabetics that treatment with insulin exists. But insulin was first extracted by Frederick Banting nearly a century ago. It’s about time that we find other ways to treat people than making them stick insulin needles into their bodies up to 150,000 times in the course of their lives.” Karin Seyffarth then described how distressing the illness is in everyday life. She was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 17 and is now mother of two young daughters. Both are at increased risk of developing the disease and are enrolled in the prevention program.
It is precisely this translation of the findings from the laboratory into medical practice that scientists have been working towards for years. “At Helmholtz Zentrum München, the team led by Prof. Ziegler has made a transformational step towards preventive medicine of the future,” said Prof. Matthias H. Tschöp, CEO of Helmholtz Zentrum München. “Thanks to outstanding translational research, a genetic score has now been developed that is able to detect the risk of diabetes at a very early stage so that preventative measures can be taken even in healthy newborns. This pioneering achievement impressively shows how Helmholtz health research sustainably protects and improves life. At the same time, it demonstrates the cutting-edge expertise of the Munich Center in the field of children’s health.”
As part of the “A World Without 1” campaign, 1500 posters will be put up in Berlin, Munich, Hanover and Dresden in three phases over the next 50 days. This was only possible with the support of the Ströer company. In addition, the motifs will be shown on more than 560 info screens in 18 major German cities.
* Type 1 diabetes is most likely to occur if specific risk-carrying genes are present. Children who carry such risk genes and develop diabetes usually have no relatives with diabetes. This means that the disease can affect anyone. In the early detection investigation of the Freder1k study, infants up to the age of four months are being tested for the presence of risk genes for type 1 diabetes using a few drops of blood. Around 1%, or 10 in every 1000 children, in Germany has risk genes for type 1 diabetes.
Children at increased risk will then have the opportunity to take part in a prevention study: Type 1 diabetes is caused by a misguided reaction of the immune system to the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin, resulting in the destruction of those cells. The aim of the POInT study is to prevent the destruction of insulin-producing cells in children at increased risk for type 1 diabetes. In this study, an attempt is made to train the immune system so that no destructive reaction occurs. It is hoped that this goal can be achieved by administering insulin powder daily with a meal. In fact, the body’s own insulin is often the first target of the immune response that leads to type 1 diabetes. Absorbed through the mucous membranes of the mouth and digestive tract, the insulin powder is meant to condition the immune system to tolerate the body’s own insulin, and in doing so prevent the pathogenic immune reaction.
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that destroys the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. The disease can affect anyone, though it usually develops early in life and is the most common metabolic disease in children and adolescents. A total of 31,500 children and adolescents under the age of 20 are currently affected. A recent study in the journal Lancet has shown that potential damage to various organ systems greatly reduces the life expectancy of those affected (by up to 18 years). In addition, the disease has a huge impact on the daily lives of those affected, who are often very young and have to inject insulin up to 150,000 times in the course of their lives. The disease remains incurable.