Objective: Serum islet antibodies signify increased risk for type 1 diabetes (T1D). Knowledge of the relationship between age and seroconversion would guide screening for at-risk individuals. We aimed to determine the effectiveness of islet antibody screening in early childhood, in particular the proportion of negative children who subsequently seroconverted.
Methods: We identified 554 children with a first-degree relative with T1D who had tested negative for islet cell antibodies (ICA) and insulin autoantibodies (IAA) when first screened at a mean age of 7.2 yr. Of 423 who were eligible, 350 consented to re-testing for ICA and IAA and antibodies to glutamic acid decarboxylase (GADAb) and tyrosine phosphatase-like insulinoma antigen IA-2 (IA2Ab) at a mean age of 11.1 yr. GADAb and IA2Ab were measured in 239 of the initial stored samples.
Results: Of the 350 children who tested negative at first screening, 12 (3.4%) subsequently seroconverted, becoming positive for ICA (n = 4), IAA (n = 7), GADAb (n = 6) or IA2Ab (n = 2). Of 239 initially negative for ICA and IAA, 8/239 (3.3%) now tested positive for GADAb (n = 7) or IA2Ab (n = 1). Four of these children were positive for GADAb in both tests; the one child initially positive for IA2Ab only was positive for all four antibodies 4.6 yr later and developed diabetes.
Conclusion: Screening for ICA and IAA failed to identify 2-3% of genetically at-risk children who subsequently developed islet antibodies. Testing for GADAb and IA2Ab would not have avoided this. Maximizing the sensitivity of detecting risk for T1D requires repeat screening for islet antibodies throughout childhood.