Potential cure for type 1 diabetes uncoveredTreatment could remove need for insulin
Scientists have discovered a treatment that could potentially transform type 1 diabetes into a condition that produces no symptoms and does not require regular insulin injections.
The breakthrough centres on glucagon, a hormone produced in the pancreas that prevents low blood sugar levels in healthy individuals but causes high blood sugar in people with type 1 diabetes.
Normally glucagon is produced when blood sugar (glucose) levels are low, but when an individual lacks enough insulin, the glucagon levels will be too high, resulting in the liver releasing excessive amounts of glucose into the bloodstream. Insulin injections are used to redress this imbalance.
The researchers, from UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, found that mice who are genetically altered to prevent the action of glucagon and are also unable to produce insulin are still able to clear glucose from the blood stream - i.e. they do not have the symptoms of diabetes.
Commenting on the findings, study leader Dr Roger Unger said: "These findings suggest that if there is no glucagon, it doesn't matter if you don't have insulin. This does not mean insulin is unimportant. It is essential for normal growth and development from neonatal to adulthood. But in adulthood, at least with respect to glucose metabolism, the role of insulin is to control glucagon - And if you don't have glucagon, then you don't need insulin."
In fact, the treatment restores glucose tolerance to normal, something that insulin injections cannot do.
The treatment could be of enormous benefit because, aside from the cost and inconvenience, insulin injections require doses much higher than the body needs - this is to ensure that enough insulin gets to the right parts of the body - and these levels can be damaging to other body tissues.
"If these latest findings were to work in humans, injected insulin would no longer be necessary for people with type 1 diabetes" Dr Unger said.
The next step is to determine the exact mechanism behind the results. The study is published in the February issue of Diabetes.
This article was published on Thu 27 January 2011
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