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Diabetic Kids Have Slower Brain Growth, Less Maturity Levels: Study

Children with Type 1 diabetes have slower brain growth compared with children without diabetes, shows a new study. Continued exposure to hyperglycemia or high blood sugar may be detrimental to their developing brain.

"Our results show the potential vulnerability of young developing brains to abnormally elevated glucose levels even when the diabetes duration has been relatively brief," said Nelly Mauras, chief, division of endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism at the Nemours Children’s Clinic in the US.

Mauras and colleagues studied brain development in children, aged four to nine years, with Type 1 diabetes using structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and cognitive tests. They also underwent blood sugar monitoring using glucose sensors.

The brains of children with type 1 diabetes have shown a slower pace of overall and regional growth of grey and white matter compared with children without diabetes, said a study conducted on diabetic children. It also showed that these kids have differences in brain maturation compared with children without diabetes.

However, there was no significant differences in cognitive function between the groups at 18-months. Some of the brain regions impacted are involved in visual-spatial processing, executive functions and working memory. The study appeared in the journal Diabetes.

For the study, the researchers evaluated 144 children aged 4 to 9 years with type 1 diabetes and 72 measures. They assessed brain structure and function using MRI scans and comprehensive neurocognitive tests for 18 months.

Participants were tested for sugar levels and HbA1c testing quarterly and it was found that in children with type 1 diabetes, overall and regional brain growth was slower than in those without the disease.

Gray matter in MRI tests showed that showed less growth in the type 1 diabetes group included left precuneus, right temporal, frontal and parietal lobes, and the right medial-frontal cortex.

White matter areas that showed less growth included splenium of the corpus callosum, bilateral superior-parietal lobe, bilateral anterior forceps and inferior-frontal fasciculus. Exposure to hyperglycemia and glucose variability, but not hypoglycemia, was linked to the brain changes evident in children with type 1 diabetes.

“We believe the results are remarkable and show the potential vulnerability of the young developing brain to abnormally elevated glucose levels,” Nelly Mauras, MD, lead author of the article and head of pediatric endocrinology at Nemours Children’s Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida, said.

Although the researchers did not find cognitive differences in the children with type 1 diabetes during the study, they are leading a continued study with the same children and will look for those types of changes. “This is the thing that parents always worry about when it comes to a child with a chronic illness,” said co-author Karen Winer, pediatric endocrinologist at the National Institutes of Health’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

However, it does not affect their brain, he says. There are some viable solutions on the horizon that parents should be aware of, he said. “The future of diabetes is very promising because technology has come so far,” Dr. Winer said.(With inputs from IANS)

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