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The research included children aged 4 to 9 years who underwent brain scans and tests to assess their mental abilities, as well as continuous monitoring of their blood sugar levels.
Compared to children without diabetes, the brains of those with the disease had slower overall and regional growth of gray and white matter. These differences were associated with higher and more variable blood sugar levels, according to the study. But, the researchers didn't find any significant differences in the children's thinking and memory skills ("cognition").
"Our results show the potential vulnerability of young developing brains to abnormally elevated glucose [blood sugar] levels, even when the diabetes duration has been relatively brief," lead author Dr. Nelly Mauras, chief of the division of endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism at Nemours Children's Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla., said in a clinic news release.
"Despite the best efforts of parents and diabetes care teams, about 50 percent of all blood glucose concentrations during the study were measured in the high range. Remarkably, the cognitive tests remained normal, but whether these observed changes will ultimately impact brain function will need further study," Mauras said.
"As better technology develops, we hope to determine if the differences observed with brain imaging can improve with better glucose control," she added.
Results were published in the December issue of the journal Diabetes.
"This is the thing that parents always worry about when it comes to a child with a chronic illness," study co-author Dr. Karen Winer, a pediatric endocrinologist at the U.S. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, said in the news release.
"Does it affect their brain? The good news here is that there may be some viable solutions on the horizon that parents should be aware of," she said.
The association seen in the study does not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.
-- Robert Preidt
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