Some adult patients with type 1 diabetes are still capable of producing insulin, American researchers have found. They say that this fact may allow many patients to avoid any complications like eye, kidney or nerve disease even 50 years after diagnosis.
Making a presentation on the study, scientists at the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation's (JDRF) Global Research Forum in Washington, D.C., said that their findings had potential implications for improved treatment for all type 1 diabetes sufferers.
The researchers described type 1 diabetes as an autoimmune disease that results in the destruction of insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas, thereby rendering people insulin-dependent for life.
They also said that such people face the constant threat of debilitating and life-threatening complications.
Dr. Mark Atkinson, Director of The Diabetes Center of Excellence at the University of Florida, revealed that the research team studied pancreatic and related tissues from organ donors with long-standing type 1 diabetes as well as those who were islet autoantibody positive.
He said that the aim of the study was to understand how type 1 diabetes develops so that a potential new therapy might be developed to cure the disease.
He revealed that the study showed that individuals with established type 1 diabetes (even those who have lived with it for 50 years or more) were still capable of producing insulin, and that 30 per cent of them did not experience any common complications.
"Contrary to common dogma, what we've learned so far is that some pancreata from subjects with long-standing type 1 diabetes have insulin positive beta cells and some have many intact islets. This finding gives hope for islet cell regeneration or restoration," he said while presenting the initial findings at the JDRF conference.
Another major finding of the study was that islets have beta cells that don't produce insulin, he said.
"If we know beta cells are there, then we can focus on finding ways to get them to produce insulin," he added.
Dr. Paul Strumph, another expert in the presentation-making team, also talked about findings that showed how beta cell mass expands in response to increased metabolic demands such as growth during the first decade of life, obesity, and pregnancy - leading to possible therapeutics that mimic the biological mechanisms that increase insulin-producing cells in this instances.
"A little bit of insulin is not a cure, but it can be significant to reduce the complications of diabetes," Strumph said.
The researchers agreed that they were on the cusp of a new era in diabetes research, one in which advanced technology and human clinical research should enhance the development of new therapeutics and an ultimate cure.
"Much of what we've known regarding the pathogenesis of type 1 diabetes has dated back to studies performed with the human pancreas' in the 1970s -- before microwaves, the internet and cell phones, and before modern day medical research technology. Now we're looking at this disease in whole new ways," said Atkinson.
Strumph added that there is more of an emphasis on looking at the natural history of the disease to guide research opportunities for those with established type 1 diabetes.