New research into diabetes has offered hope for people suffering with the particularly virulent type one condition.
Scientists have discovered that many of the insulin-producing cells in type one diabetics are in fact not dead as was previously presumed.
It has been commonly believed that this is the case, but researchers associated with Exeter University Medical School have found that the cells in type one diabetics are merely dormant.
Researchers had already proved that the number of insulin producing cells in people suffering from type one diabetes can drop by as much as 90%.
Yet the research from Exeter University suggests that the situation in diabetics is not as serious as presumed, and that it may be more possible to address the serious condition than had otherwise been believed.
Around 400,000 people have been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in Britain, and most did not develop the disease until after the age of six.
Commenting on the issue, Professor Noel Morgan of Exeter University Medical School, was positive about the potential of this discovery, characterising it as a genuine breakthrough in understanding of the illness.
“This is incredibly exciting, and could open the doors to new treatments for young people who develop diabetes. It was previously thought that teenagers with type 1 diabetes had lost around 90 per cent of their beta cells but, by looking in their pancreas, we have discovered that this is not true. In fact, those diagnosed in their teens still have many beta cells left – this suggests that the cells are dormant, but not dead. If we can find a way to reactivate these cells so that they resume insulin release, we may be able to slow or even reverse progression of this terrible disease.”
British researchers collaborating with a team of scientists from the University of Oslo, examining 400 pancreas samples from a wide variety of people suffering with type one diabetes.
Now that it has been established that the insulin producing cells in diabetics are not fully lost, and instead merely inactive, the process of attempting to reactivate these cells can now begin.
Of course, working out how to achieve this will be a massive challenge, as acknowledged by the aforementioned Morgan.
“Quite simply, and sadly, I don’t know [if this can be achieved]. However there is evidence that this can happen when the (cells) are kept outside the body for a few days, so understanding how to achieve this is not a complete pipe dream.”
Karen Addington, UK Chief Executive of type 1 diabetes charity JDRF, was equally positive about the findings.
“A child diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of five faces up to 19,000 insulin injections and 50,000 finger-prick blood tests before they reach the age of 18. But this research can bring us closer to the day we find the cure.”
Since 1996, the number of people living with diabetes has more than doubled.
If nothing changes, it is estimated that over five million people in the UK will have diabetes by 2025.