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K1DS ARE HEROES - Helmholtz Munich and GPPAD present the Type 1 Diabetes Awareness Campaign

Public Engagement, Diabetes, IDF,

With this new campaign, scientists want to raise awareness for early detection and prevention of type 1 diabetes in children.

More than 2000 billboards and 750 info screens will raise awareness for the most common metabolic disorder in children and adolescents: type 1 diabetes. Initiators of the cross media campaign K1DS ARE HEROES arethe Global Platform for the Prevention of Autoimmune Diabetes (GPPAD) and the Helmholtz Munich Institute for Diabetes Research (IDF).

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that can affect anyone: a recent study published in The Lancet estimates, that the incidence of type 1 diabetes will double by 2040. To date, already 4 in 1000 children in Germany develop type 1 diabetes and 10 in 1000 children have an increased genetic risk to develop the disease. Almost 90 percent of children and adults who develop type 1 diabetes do not have a close relative with the disease. Most people are still unaware of the typical symptoms for the autoimmune disease. Hence, it is often only detected when symptoms have become severe for the patients. However, there are ways to detect the disease before any symptoms even appear.

With the K1DS ARE HEROES campaign, the scientists want to sensitize the general public to type 1 diabetes and educate them on possibilities of early detection and prevention. By participating in early detection programs such as offered by the Fr1da-study, type 1 diabetes can already be detected in an early stage, before symptoms occur. This can prevent serious consequences for affected children and their families can better prepare for the disease through training programs. With Teplizumab, which was recently approved in the US, the first drug is available to delay the onset of type 1 diabetes by an average of three years – provided that type 1 diabetes is detect in an early stage. As the exact causes of type 1 diabetes are not yet known, the Global Platform for The Prevention of Autoimmune Diabetes wants to intervene even earlier in the progress of the disease. For this, GPPAD offers a genetic screening to test for an increased risk of developing type 1 diabetes in newborns. Across Europe, more than 400 000 children have already been tested in the study program, which is conducted in Germany under the name Freder1k-Study. Children at increased risk are then offered to participate in GPPAD’s primary prevention studies. The aim of the studies is to reduce the incidence of islet autoimmunity and type 1 diabetes in children.

The K1DS ARE HEROES campaign wants to put the spot on all children who are superheroes, day in, day out: For GPPAD, these are all children living with type 1 diabetes and all children participating in their clinical trials. These children contribute to the research on disease mechanism and the development of preventive measures and are therefore considered heroic. All other children and adults can be superheroes too, by educating themselves about type 1 diabetes and talking about the disease with their peers. In addition, the campaign also addresses heroes in society and health care system: we are tied to their decisions and efforts in order to create a world, where no child needs to develop type 1 diabetes.

Within the next 20 days, more than 2000 billboards in Munich, Hannover, and Dresden will display the campaign. These three cities locate the German research sites of the European research platform GPPAD. In addition, the campaign will be shown on more than 750 info screens along public transportation in 18 metropolitan areas across Germany.

A press conference on 27th of February 2023 marked the official start of the campaign. The conference took place in the Haus der Bundespressekonferenz in Berlin and hosted experts supporting awareness and prevention for type 1 diabetes:

Prof. Dr. Anette-Gabriele Ziegler, Director of the Helmholtz Munich Institute for Diabetes Research (IDF) and head of the research platform GPPAD explained the advantages of nationwide early detection programs for type 1 diabetes: 

"The recent approval of Teplizumab in the US means that the first drug is now available that can delay the onset of type 1 diabetes by an average of three years. Teplizumab gives children and their families more time to live without blood sugar control and complicated disease management. We very much hope that Teplizumab will be made available in Europe in the near future. However, a population-wide early detection program is essential/ crucial, as treatment with teplizumab can only delay the onset of the disease at an early stage. We therefore call for the early detection screening test of the Fr1da study to become part of standard care nationwide."

The Helmholtz Vice President of Health Research and CEO of Helmholtz Munich, Prof. Dr. med. Dr. h.c. Dr. h.c. Matthias Tschöp, is committed to accelerating the transfer of research results into applications for people:

"There is an enthusiastic spirit in Germany to accelerate transfer. With our work and the international network of Helmholtz Health and GPPAD, we have laid the foundations for a path towards a world without type 1 diabetes. Now, in line with the claim of our K1DS ARE HEROES campaign, we need everyday heroes from society and politics to create the transfer of our research results into medical practice. Only with active support for the continued maintenance and resourcing of the symbiosis between the German Centers for Health Research (DZGs) and the Helmholtz Centers, carefully orchestrated over more than a decade, will we be able to move away from repair medicine and towards personalized prevention in the field of type 1 diabetes, both nationally and globally."

Prof. Dr. Reinhard Berner, Director of the Clinic and Policlinic for Children- and Adolescents of the TU Dresden and member of the Corona advisory expert board to the German Federal Government pointed out that the situation of children and adolescents aggravated during the COVID-19-Pandemic, also with regards to type 1 diabetes:

“Even though we were already concerned about the increasing incidence of type 1 diabetes and the rising number of diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) before the pandemic, the situation has been exacerbated by the pandemic. The incidence of type 1 diabetes increased more than expected in the first year of the pandemic. Furthermore, a meta-analysis from 2022 shows that in Germany, as well as globally, the number of severe diabetic ketoacidosis at diagnosis increased significantly during the first wave of the pandemic. For Germany, this means that instead of about 20 out of 100 children, about 40 out of 100 children were diagnosed with type 1 diabetes after having suffered from/ experienced diabetic ketoacidosis. This is why it is so important to inform people on both the symptoms of type 1 diabetes and the opportunities of early detection using islet autoantibody screenings. Campaigns, such as the K1DS ARE HEROES campaign, can thus help reduce the number of such severe metabolic derailments at diagnosis or at onset."

In addition to the three research and medical experts, Maren Sturny, author and mother,described how she and her family experienced the sudden diagnosis of her daughter. When she was six years old, her daughter unexpectedly developed type 1 diabetes:

"In 2019, my daughter was feeling worse and worse. She had become more and more physically exhausted, lost a lot of weight within a short period of time, and was thirsty all the time. Unfortunately, I did not know at that time that these were clear symptoms of type 1 diabetes. Our ignorance regarding type 1 diabetes nearly cost my daughter’s life in 2019. This campaign can be a wake-up call for all parents in Germany so that their children do not suffer the same as many children do from the diagnosis of type 1 diabetes.  We can all do something heroic by educating ourselves about type 1 diabetes, sharing information, or participating in early detection studies.”

The press conference was moderated by music producer and television host Shirin Valentine, who has type 1 diabetes herself and speaks publicly to raise awareness for the disease:

„To manage type 1 diabetes and first and foremost to understand the disease requires huge efforts. I myself would have been happy, if there had been such a campaign when I was diagnosed. For this reason, I want to support freshly diagnosed people and show them that, as tricky as the disease might be, it is possible to live very well with it.“

More information on the campaign: