The size and weight of a person’s pancreas may indicate their risk for developing type 1 diabetes, according to new research funded by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF).
The study, carried out by Prof Martha Campbell-Thompson, of the University of Florida College of Medicine, and colleagues, found for the first time that people at risk for type 1 diabetes had smaller pancreases than people who were not at risk.
Between October 2006 and April 2012, the scientists examined pancreases from adult organ donors. Of the donors, 20 had type 1 diabetes and eight were positive for single-islet autoantibodies, putting them at high risk of the autoimmune disease .
After comparing the pancreases with 23 control samples, they discovered that those from type 1 diabetes patients weighed significantly less than those of patients at high risk – 44.9g versus 61.3g. The type 1 pancreases were also about half the size and weight of those from patients without diabetes (controls).
In addition, pancreases from the positive autoantibodies group were roughly three-quarters the size of control samples.
The researchers said the findings, which are published in the Journal of the American Medical Associatio, suggest that pancreas size and weight may be possible biomarkers for type 1 diabetes .
Teodora Staeva, program director for immune therapies at JDRF, said: “The findings raise significant questions about the development and progression of Type 1 diabetes.”
The scientists said the next step in their research is to use “non-invasive methods such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to gauge pancreas size in live patients.
“This could really change some of the ideas we have about Type 1 diabetes,” Campbell-Thompson said. “By understanding how it develops we can think of new ways to treat it.”

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