London: Infants with a rare form of a insulin disease that may lead to brain damage and death can now be identified earlier, thanks to a test developed by researchers from the University of Manchester in Britain.
Congenital hyperinsulinism starves a baby's brain of blood sugar. The condition occurs when specialised cells in the pancreas release too much of insulin which causes frequent low sugar episodes.
"We have discovered a new clinical test which can identify congenital hyperinsulinism in some patients with no known genetic cause of the disease," said lead researcher Karen Cosgrove.
The test measures a pair of hormones called incretins which are released by specialised cells in the gut when food is passing through.
The hormones normally convey the cells in the pancreas to release more insulin to regulate sugar levels in our blood.
If the child's body releases too much incretin hormones, the pancreas will release too much insulin causing low blood sugar levels.
For the study, genes and hormones were analysed in 13 children with congenital hyperinsulisnism at the Manchester Children's Hospital.
"Although we are the first researchers to report high incretin hormone levels in patients with congenital hyperinsulinism, further studies are needed to see if our test works on a larger group of patients," Cosgrove noted.
Current treatment of the disease includes drugs to reduce insulin release but in the most serious cases the pancreas is removed.
"In future the test may influence how these children are treated medically, perhaps even avoiding the need to have their pancreas removed," Cosgrove pointed out.
The study appeared in The Journal of Pediatrics.