Although suffering from type 1 diabetes means that the body continually attacks its own insulin-producing pancreatic beta cells, a new study has found that some of these cells can last for many decades in some people with the disease. Scientists, at the Joslin Diabetes Center in the US, hope that these results will provide clues to new treatments for preserving, and even restoring, the crucial cell population.
Researchers at Josli, which annually awards medals to people with long-lasting insulin-dependent diabetes, examined their select group of medal winners to identify protective factors for their long-term survival. The results, published in Diabetes, were based on analysis of the pancreatic function in 411 medallists and nine pancreases from medallist organ donors.
Blood samples revealed three factors: C-peptide molecules, a marker of insulin production; levels of blood glucose that increase less after a meal than would be expected in the absence of insulin; and signs of autoimmune attack. In addition, every one of the pancreases exhibited active insulin-producing beta cells.
George L. King, senior author on the paper, said “The evidence that these insulin-producing cells are both growing and dying is very important from a treatment point of view. If we could increase the rate of growth and decrease the rate of death, we potentially could build up more insulin-producing cells and lead to a treatment or a cure.”

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