By Nicola Davies, PhD
Neil Armstrong once said, “Research is creating new knowledge.” It certainly is, and when that research is in the field of medicine, the impact on humankind can be immense. Particularly in the case of chronic conditions such as diabetes, groundbreaking research can transform and save lives. With research and awareness in mind, here are some recent developments in type 1 diabetes.
Normally, blood sugar levels are regulated when two cells in the pancreas, known as alpha and beta cells, work together. In type 1 diabetes, the immune system kills off the body’s beta cells. However, the latest research suggests that a new type of beta cell might be able restore the normal functionality of the pancreas. These newly discovered beta cells may be able to produce insulin, but lack certain key receptors needed to detect glucose. Scientists now believe that some of these beta cells could transform into alpha cells, which produce glucagon, a hormone that increases blood sugar. This discovery points to a potential new mechanism for generating alpha cells for blood sugar regulation.
Meanwhile, researchers from the University of Tampere in Finland are developing a preventative vaccine for type 1 diabetes, which could save a significant percentage of the global population from developing the disease. Scientists have found links between a specific virus — coxsackievirus B1 (CVB1) — and an autoimmune reaction that triggers the destruction of cells in the pancreas. The findings suggest a link between certain infections and type 1 diabetes. The discovery of CVB1 as a type of diabetes-generating virus creates possibilities for a future vaccination that could prevent type 1 diabetes altogether.
Giving impetus to the vast canvas of scientific cell research are giant leaps in technological innovation. The University of Miami’s Diabetes Research Institute recently conducted a promising experiment into the development of the world’s first artificial pancreas implant. The team developed the BioHub, a small, pancreas-mimicking “organ” made of a clear silicone compound that resembles a nest. Carrying transplanted islet cells that contain beta cells, the nest was implanted into a type 1 diabetes patient’s omentum — a fatty membrane in the stomach. One year later, the patient has not needed any insulin injections or pumps.
Innovative treatments regarding the pancreas now come in many forms. For example, researchers from the University of Tokyo and Stanford University have grown pancreatic tissue using stem cells from non-diabetic mice. They transplanted this tissue into mice with type 1 diabetes and reversed the diabetes altogether.
Based on the World Health Organization’s estimates, over 400 million people live with diabetes globally. This is likely to increase to 642 million by 2040. In this context, innovation in diabetes research will play a pivotal role in the future of treatment. However, equally critical is the participation of those with diabetes in utilizing this new knowledge and any innovative products that emerge from it. Keeping up to date with research is an important component of effective self-management and will help you harness the power of innovation to take better care of yourself.
Want to learn more about diabetes research? Read “Oral Insulin: Inching Closer to Reality,” “Metformin Lowers Insulin Requirements in Type 1,” and “Targeting the Gut to Prevent Type 1 Diabetes.”
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