Taking the Ouch out of Diabetes

New findings from UT Southwestern Medical Center researchers suggest that Type 1 diabetes could be converted to an asymptomatic, non-insulin-dependent disorder by eliminating the actions of a specific hormone.

Type 1 diabetes affects about 1 million people in the U.S.  In these people, the pancreatic islet cells that produce insulin are destroyed and sufferers must take insulin multiple times a day in order to metabolize blood sugar, regulate blood-sugar levels and prevent diabetic coma. They also must adhere to strict dietary restrictions.

These new studies in mice show that insulin becomes completely superfluous and its absence does not cause diabetes or any other abnormality when the actions of glucagon are suppressed.

Glucagon, a hormone produced by the pancreas, prevents low blood sugar levels in healthy individuals and causes high blood sugar in people with type 1 diabetes.

We’ve all been brought up to think insulin is the all-powerful hormone without which life is impossible, but that isn’t the case,” said Dr. Roger Unger, professor of internal medicine and senior author of the study appearing online and in the February issue of Diabetes.If diabetes is defined as restoration of glucose homeostasis to normal, then this treatment can perhaps be considered very close to a cure.

Insulin has been the gold standard for type 1 diabetes (insulin-dependent diabetes) since its discovery in 1922. But even optimal regulation of type 1 diabetes with insulin cannot restore normal glucose tolerance. These new findings demonstrate that elimination of glucagon restores glucose tolerance to normal.  In other words, if you don’t have glucagon, then you don’t need insulin.

Dr. Young Lee, assistant professor of internal medicine at UT Southwestern and lead author of the study, said the next step is to determine the mechanism behind this result.

““If we can find a way to block the actions of glucagon in humans, then maybe we can minimize the need for insulin therapy.”

Here at Word on Health, we’re sure that for those with diabetes, anything that reduces the need for injections has to be a positive.