Even if people have been affected by type 1 diabetes since 50 years, they are still capable of producing insulin, researchers at the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston have found.
Led by George King, M.D., the research team showed that 17 percent of more than 300 people who have had type 1 diabetes for 50 years or more still had the capacity to produce some insulin.
"This was a big surprise to everybody. If people who have had type 1 diabetes for this long have residual insulin production, then those who have had the disease for less time might have an even greater capacity to produce insulin," said King, Joslin's Director of Research.
Most of the individuals with type 1 diabetes have been living with the disease for at least 15 years but King believes that it is very rare to live with diabetes for more than 50 years.
For the study, King and colleagues measured levels of c-peptide in patients enrolled in Joslin's 50-year Medalist Study, which is following several hundred patients who have been living with type 1 diabetes for 50 or more years to better understand the factors that contribute to their longevity.
C-peptide is a protein fragment released by the pancreas and is used as a marker for insulin.
"This finding means that even people with diabetes for 50 to 80 years potentially still have some islet cells in the pancreas that have survived and could still make insulin," King said.
"If we can find a way to revive these cells in patients, particularly those with fewer years with diabetes, it could mean new ways to treat the disease. This finding could possibly allow patients to reduce the doses of insulin they are taking," he said.
The study has been presented at the American Diabetes Association's 68th Scientific Sessions.