Unfortunately for both diabetics and researchers, the cause of type 1 diabetes has remained unknown ever since the disease was identified. However, thanks to a new study being carried out in Scotland, this could all change.
Over the next year, thousands of children aged between 5 and 16 in Scotland with diabetic family members will be offered a blood test to assess whether they are at risk of developing diabetes mellitus, and those that are in danger of becoming diabetic will be given either a placebo or the drug metformin as to protect their insulin-producing beta cells from any damage. This is designed to prevent type 1 diabetes at a large scale, and if successful, could pave the way for national diabetes prevention programmes that could stop thousands of children and adolescents from becoming diabetic.
Moreover, this research will put an alternative explanation of the cause of diabetes to the test, meaning that the root of this disease could finally be uncovered. This theory, proposed by Professor Terence Wilkin of the University of Exeter, states that certain environmental factors particularly prevalent in modern times trigger immune responses that eventually lead to the destruction of the cells responsible for storing, secreting and producing the hormone insulin that is responsible for controlling blood sugar levels. In essence, the cause of diabetes according to this explanation is not simply the immune system- it is its reaction to a certain factor.
This study could prove to be the breakthrough that over 400,000 people in the UK alone have been waiting for, although this study will most likely only reduce the likelihood of people becoming diabetic, and will not cure diabetes once it is at a late stage. Nonetheless, it is very encouraging to see that tangible progress is being made towards finding the cause of diabetes, and thus towards creating a cure.
Source: Study seeks type 1 diabetes breakthrough by Eleanor Bradford, BBC News