Diabetes Self-Management Blog

Studies of mice performed by a Canadian-led research team have shown that the body’s nervous system appears to play an important, but previously unrecognized, role in triggering diabetes. This discovery led the researchers to develop a treatment protocol that reversed diabetes in mice and may have potential for treating humans.

The studies were conducted by researchers affiliated with the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Ontario, the University of Calgary in Calgary, Alberta, and The Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine, and results were published in the December 15 issue of the scientific journal Cell.

Because a large number of sensory (or pain-related) nerves exist in close proximity to the pancreas’s insulin-producing beta cells, the researchers decided to see if there was a link between the nerves’ action and the development of diabetes. In one experiment, they injected a substance called capsaicin (the active ingredient in hot peppers) into newborn mice that had been bred to have a high risk of developing the equivalent of Type 1 diabetes. The substance killed specific sensory nerves in the pancreases of the mice. Knocking out these nerves apparently prevented the mice from developing diabetes; they didn’t even experience inflammation of the beta cells (one of the early signs of Type 1 diabetes).

What’s the connection between these pancreatic nerves and the organ’s ability to produce insulin? The researchers discovered that the nerves in the pancreas normally secrete substances called neuropeptides that are necessary for the proper functioning of the beta cells. However, in mice that are already in the process of developing diabetes, these nerves release too little of the neuropeptides, resulting in stress on the beta cells.

In a second experiment, the researchers injected one specific neuropeptide known as “substance P” into the pancreases of mice with inflamed beta cells, insulin resistance, and diabetes. By the following day, the inflammation had been reversed and blood glucose levels returned to normal. After the single injection, some of the mice stayed free of diabetes for as long as four months, which is the equivalent of six to eight years in humans.

These studies have been called “paradigm-changing” because they open the door for a new model of Type 1 diabetes as not simply an autoimmune disease, but a disease of the nervous system as well. And because treatment of nervous system abnormalities in the mice helped clear up diabetes in part by reducing insulin resistance—usually a sign of Type 2
diabetes—the researchers also concluded that Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes may be much more similar than was previously thought, with insulin resistance playing an important role in both.

The apparent nervous system component of diabetes may indicate similarities to certain other medical conditions. A previous paper published by the leader of these mouse studies showed similarities between diabetes and multiple sclerosis, a disease of the nervous system. And the researchers now believe that there may be a nervous system component to other “chronic inflammatory conditions” such as asthma and Crohn disease. The researchers also hypothesize that diabetic neuropathy (nerve disease) could possibly have something to do with the nervous system’s overall role in diabetes development, rather than exist simply a result of having diabetes.

The researchers are moving on to test the connection between sensory nerve function and diabetes development in humans and expect to have results within the next year or so. However, even if the results of a human study are positive, treatments based on this research would still be years away from widespread availability.


  1. I volunteer to be a test subject!!!Lol

    Posted by J. Lyles |
  2. We as Diabetics need all the support possible to implement studies getting more information regarding nerve connection to diabetic development; stopping the development of diabetes,and other diseases may result from nerve damage, which is the result of this study. Please I’d like to see an end to this disease in my lifetime!
    Thanks to you who are in research and others spurring this on! Estrella 7

    Posted by Ruthe |
  3. I too am thankful for the research teams working to eradicate diabetes. The end of diabetes would give children and teens a life free of insulin and watching every bite of food they consume. Please keep working toward the goal of no more diabetes!

    Posted by middlec |
  4. I read about this huge breakthrough a few hours after it was
    blasted over the Canadian newswires and was overjoyed. It took weeks before I even saw a tiny blurb about it published in the U.S.

    I wonder if, after such an astounding discovery, which (a) not only has the potential of effecting an overnight cure; but (b) which also involves treatment with the use of such an innocuous (and low cost!) substance as capsaicin, will be subjected to the yearsof clinical trials and scrutiny by the FDA before approval for testing on human volunteers.

    I am in my 60’s, do not respond to current medical treatment, and am waiting with bated breath for a “miraculous” discovery. If this is it, wouldn’t it be wonderful if it were made available to others, such as myself, now instead of later?

    I fear that the corporate structures of the current day multi-zillion-dollar diabetes drug companies are not exactly anxious to move over for such a potential low-cost remedy.

    Posted by Sharon |
  5. Sign me up for any test program. I have been diabetic since 1976 and I’m ready to be rid of it. Keep up the good work. Praise Jesus for you who are working on this problem.

    Posted by Karl Zurmuehlen |
  6. Please sign me up for the test program. I would like to keep in touch with the development in this area.

    Posted by HerbG |
  7. I would also like to be part of this study when it is tried on humans. This is a real break through for Diabetics.

    Posted by Carol J Thompson |
  8. This sounds very interesting - as at the same time, we in diabetes care are beginning to see that there is a link between diabetes and severe mental illness - such as schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease, and clinical depression - all diseases of the brain tissue (=central nervous system). There is one research paper coming out soon to shed more light on this. We are seeing large numbers of people who have both diabetes and severe mental illness, or families where one has diabetes and another schizophrenia. Among my own three beautiful daughters, one has Type 1 diabetes since the age of five, another has schizophrenia since the age of seven!

    Laila King
    Senior Diabetes Specialist Nurse Educator
    University Teaching Fellow

    Posted by Laila King |
  9. 13yrs ago I had a very high fever for many days after coming down with Rocky Mountain Spotted Tick Fever. After the fever finally broke the specialist gave me the shocking news, that I had gone from a very healthy person to a now insulin dependent diabetic. He said he wasn’t sure if it was from the brain damage that resulted from the fever or if my pancreases had been damaged.

    My family doctor first tried diet and micronase which worked until I received a chest injury. At that time I was put on insulin. He had high hopes that I could change back to the pill after my chest healed, but he moved far away to start his own practice and other doctors since have told me it would be impossible to go back once on insulin.

    I’m exited about the research to find the connection between the pancreatic nerves and the organ’s ability to produce insulin, but for now, is it possible to back off of the insulin and return to anti-diabetic meds? If so, what is the safest method? I’m optimistic.

    Posted by Optimistic |
  10. This sounds like a good experiment, though we can’t really be sure what effects will have on human’s body. Did they studied the differences on substances in body? Anyway, I would be able to be a test subject too… I would try anything to get rid of this diabetic body… :P

    Posted by timada |
  11. I have became adult onset type as of last year. I would gladly apply for a volunteer spot.

    Posted by Oneil |
  12. I understand that they have to follow certain procedures with this treatment, what I don’t understand is if people are dying that could possibly be helped, why not use this? I think the best answer for that is this…..How much money is involved with the treatment of Diabetes? Like everyone with this disease, (type 1) we are getting tired of prickin the finger and “shootin up” to live. 41 years and going strong but gettin kinda tired of being a walking pin cusion. So PLEASE SIGN ME UP NOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Posted by John Landis |

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