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New Hope in the Search for a Cure for Diabetes

A recent study shows great promise for those suffering from type-1 diabetes. Researchers were able to instigate insulin production in diabetic mice, effectively curing them of diabetes.

Type-1 Diabetes is Caused by a Lack of Insulin
Type-1 diabetes, sometimes referred to as juvenile-onset diabetes or insulin- dependent diabetes, is a lifelong disease caused by a deficiency in the pancreas. If the pancreas functions ineffectively, it won’t produce enough insulin, a hormone involved in regulating blood sugar.

Without enough insulin, the body is not able to use the energy provided by sugars in the blood. Consequently, blood sugar levels begin to rise. If insulin isn’t replaced, diabetics with type-1 diabetes are at risk for long-term complications, such as renal failure, heart disease and vision impairment. More serious effects of insulin deficiency include coma and death.

Although type-1 diabetes can be diagnosed at any age, patients are typically younger than thirty when the disease is discovered. While the exact cause of type-1 diabetes is unknown, most patients have an autoimmune reaction against the islet cells, the cells in the pancreas that secrete insulin. This leads to the destruction of those cells, triggering the resulting lack of insulin.

Closer to a Diabetes Cure?
Since type-1 diabetes results from a lack of insulin, the logical response is to replace the insulin. Although insulin replacement is the current treatment for diabetes, it is not a simple task. Not only does insulin have to be injected up to four times a day in some patients, but achieving the proper dose is also tricky. While too little insulin causes blood sugar levels to rise precariously, too much insulin can send the patient into a hypoglycemic coma.

The hope for a real "cure" involves restoring the normal function of the pancreatic islet cells so that they can automatically produce the insulin the body needs.

The latest findings in the search for a diabetes cure were recently published in the journal Science. The study, led by Dr. Denise Faustman from the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, was able to essentially cure mice of type-1 diabetes.

The surprising results showed that when cells from healthy adult mouse spleens, an organ involved in the immune system, were injected into diabetic mice the cells were able to implant in the pancreas and transform into functional pancreatic islet cells. As the islet cells regenerated in the diabetic mice, insulin secretion began and their blood sugar levels were naturally controlled. This successful "reversal" of diabetes in mice provides hope that scientists are one step closer to a cure for diabetes in humans.

Diabetes In the News
Many of the recent top health stories have helped to shed light on diabetes. Scientists have long made the connection between obesity and diabetes, but recent research on obesity shows that a person's risk of being obese increases 23 percent for each two-hour increment of television they watch each day.

The Atkins' Diet and other low-carbohydrate eating regimens have been all the rage of late. While many researchers have investigated these diets, one study in particular found that severely obese people, following a low-carbohydrate diet, lost more weight than those following a low-fat diet. In addition, the subjects showed an improvement in their response to insulin, which has promise for preventing diabetes.

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Last modified 18 September 2006
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