Finger pricking is yet another unavoidable but monotonously tiring part of any diabetic’s life that also leaves many uncomfortable traces on the skin. However, this method of measuring blood sugar levels could be made obsolete by breath tests following a discovery by the University of Cambridge.
These researchers have found and isolated the chemical isoprene, which is produced by the body when blood sugars are low, and thus could be used to determine a person’s specific level of sugar in their blood through measuring the concentration of isoprene in their breath.
This discovery also provides an explanation for why many dogs can detect sharp drops in blood sugar levels (see my post on ‘Canine Heroes’ for more information about how dogs can help diabetics): unlike humans, they can smell isoprene, which provides an indicator of whether a person is suffering a hypoglycaemic attack or not. In fact, it was the researchers’ ambition to find the chemical that allowed dogs to detect low amounts of sugar in a person that led to them identifying isoprene.
While this development promises diabetics a pain-free method of measuring blood sugar levels, it is likely to require several years to be implemented and does not tackle the core issue of finding a cause or cure for diabetes mellitus.
Source: Painless breath test could replace daily finger prick for diabetics from telegraph.co.uk, by Sarah Knapton
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
Diabetes type 1, like many other diseases, is caused by the immune system attacking the body’s own cells, resulting in a certain function of one’s body being degraded. With T1D, the main issue is that the body’s beta cells, which are responsible for creating insulin, are destroyed, meaning that one has to control their blood sugar levels through insulin injections.
However, the body attacks several other targets, including glutamate decarboxylase, IA-2, zinc transporter-8, and as only recently discovered, tetraspanin-7. While these names are hardly of any significance to most people, they are mainly compounds responsible for secreting or storing insulin, the hormone that controls blood sugar levels, and could be key to discovering the cause of type 1 diabetes. In fact, these new findings are already being used in a trial aiming to stop the development of type 1 diabetes at King’s College London.
Source: Final piece of type 1 diabetes puzzle solved by James Gallagher, BBC News
Recently, scientists from Harvard University and MIT have shown that it is possible to ‘cure’ diabetes for long periods of time without the need for pancreatic islet transplants.
This novel ‘cure’ is based on a method for mass-producing insulin-secreting beta cells discovered by Harvard University in 2014, but has only now been tested on animals. When these cells were transplanted into mice, it was found that the disease ‘switched off’ for 6 months, which if implemented into humans could potentially delay diabetes for several years.
With this breakthrough, daily insulin injections could become but a distant memory for the 400,000 or so type 1 diabetics in the UK, finally giving them the freedom to eat what they want without constantly worrying about their blood sugar levels.
However, it is likely that it will take several years for human trials to take place, and will be even longer for the therapy to be implemented outside of clinical trials. Still, it is encouraging to see that progress is being made in realising a cure for diabetes mellitus.
Sources: Harvard and MIT close to ‘cure’ for Type 1 diabetes which will end daily injections
Cure for Type 1 diabetes imminent after Harvard stem-cell breakthrough; both from telegraph.co.uk, by Sarah Knapton
From nothing to a fully functioning pancreas. For most diabetics this is but a distant dream- while some may be able to get a pancreatic islet transplant, the closest the majority of people suffering diabetes mellitus will get to independence from their condition is an insulin pump.
However, a team from the Diabetes Research Institute in Miami Florida found that bone proteins “used to help bones mend” can also force cells in the pancreas to produce insulin, instead of the missing beta cells that typically make this hormone in non-diabetics. What this will mean for diabetics like me, is that they will not have to do regular injections as to keep their blood sugar levels in check, just like non-diabetics.
In this form of therapy, non-beta cells in the pancreas are exposed to “a growth factor called BMP-7” that transforms them into insulin-producing cells. This method was tested on diabetic mice whose “beta cells had been destroyed artificially with a chemical”, and the therapy led to these cells behaving just like healthy insulin-producing beta cells. However, this has not yet been tested on humans, so it is yet to be seen if it will work. Nonetheless, it is very encouraging to see that a great variety of potential cures are being developed to combat this condition which blights approximately 40 million people worldwide.
Source: Diabetic pancreas cells made to produce insulin by bone protein from newscientist.co.uk, by Andy Coghlan.
As anyone who has diabetes type 1 knows all too well, this disease, as manageable as it is, requires almost constant attention, which can at times be tiring. One person that understands this very well is child psychologist Mary Rooney, who was only diagnosed in 2011 with diabetes mellitus, and recently had groundbreaking therapy which she said had “freed her from the daily grind” of managing her condition.
This new therapy developed by researchers at the University of California and Yale involves taking “peacekeeping” T-reg cells that “protect insulin-making cells from the immune system” from patients, replicating them in a growth medium and finally infusing them back into the blood. In the initial trial of 14 people carried out by these researchers, it was found that the “the therapy is safe, and can last up to a year”, showing that it is possible to turn back the clock on the body destroying its own insulin-secreting cells in the pancreas. Moreover, this therapy could be used in combination with “an independent source of insulin producing cells” to completely control the condition, according to Professor Bluestone from the University of California.
Finally, this latest development in finding a cure for diabetes mellitus could also lead to cures for other autoimmune diseases such as “rheumatoid arthritis and lupus”, and could possibly even help cure neurological diseases.
Source: End of daily injections for diabetes as scientists restore insulin production from telegraph.co.uk, by Sara Knapton
Last week a team from the Catholic University of Louvain (UCL) in Belgium reported their findings on a novel way of potentially curing diabetes that involves taking pancreatic cells and genetically modifying them as to coerce them into secreting insulin, thus countering the loss of insulin production typically seen in diabetics.
The method involves taking “pancreatic duct cells from dead donors”, which “don’t normally produce insulin”, but can “differentiate into specific cell types”. This feature has been harnessed by this team as to produce insulin by adding a “genetic switch” to change their behaviour. These cells were then implanted into diabetic mice, and were found to produce insulin.
However, this cure is still in early development, and we will have to see if these cells can be used in humans as well.
Source: New Scientist, edition no. 3042, ‘In Brief’ section- ‘Reboot insulin cells to treat diabetes’