New ways to prevent infant diabetes

January 24, 2008 7:29:56 PM PST
Doctors at UCSF are investigating an unusual approach to prevent type one diabetes. They want to see if adding a certain dietary intervention in the first months of life could prevent a child's body from turning on itself and developing diabetes.

Carter doesn't realize it, but he may become a medical pioneer, or at the very least a guinea pig in early research to prevent diabetes. Mom Amy Hendrix says diabetes has had a major impact on her family.

"On both sides of our family there is type one diabetes," said Carter's mom Amy Hendrix.

And while carrying carter, she got more bad news.

"When I was nine months pregnant with this baby, my other son was diagnosed with type one. He was very ill for several weeks," said Amy Hendrix.

That puts Carter at high-risk for developing type one diabetes, so today he's being tested to see if he can participate in UCSF's trial net study.

An article in the Journal of the American Medical Association triggered the research. It suggested: "If an infant is exposed to omega-three or other fatty acids during the first months of life, the fatty acids might be able to prevent type one diabetes in high-risk infants."

The original study focused on women living in coastal villages who ate a lot of fish who had children with lower rates of diabetes. But - this was a very preliminary study, so now nine centers, including UCSF, are setting up phase-one clinical trials to see if prevention is really possible.

"Basically this is a multi-center double blind placebo controlled study using omega-three fatty acids," said UCSF pediatrics professor Dr. Stephen Rosenthal.

A simple blood test is required for mom and baby. Carter doesn't like this part at all - to see if they carry markers indicating high risk for diabetes.

If they qualify for the study, carter and his mom will get capsules of either omega three fatty acids - or a placebo.

Nursing moms take four capsules a day. After that the omega oils are added to an infant's food.

"If we are able to successfully enroll the projected number of infants and able to keep them in the study that is complying with the regulations of the study then we will expand this to a much larger scale study," said Dr. Rosenthal.

Amy hopes they can participate.

"If it can help him and prevent um diabetes, um that's great. If not then it can help other babies in the future," said Hendrix.

"This is a very exciting study because this is a form of primary prevention for type 1 diabetes," said Dr. Rosenthal.

Scientists are hopeful this simple dietary addition will stop juvenile diabetes from ever developing.

Type one diabetes rates have been rising. One theory is that pregnant women are eating less fish and their unborn babies are getting less omega three fatty acids.

Doctor profiled: Stephen Rosenthal, M.D.
Professor of Pediatrics
Department of Pediatrics
University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine
Director, Pediatric Endocrine Outpatient Services, UCSF
San Francisco, California

For more information about the omega three fatty acids clinical trial contact:
Kathleen Breen, at or 415-502-8640.

Other diabetes study information: UCSF Diabetes Center, at 415-353-9084 or visit