Saturday science subject: Diabetes breakthrough

— 4:10 PM on December 16, 2006

Canadian and U.S. researchers at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children, the University of Calgary, and the Jackson Laboratory in Maine have made a significant breakthrough that could help prevent and even reverse Type One diabetes. The researchers have found proof that the disorder is caused not by auto-immune response as previously thought, but by pain receptors in the body's insulin-producing cells. Not only that, but they've used their findings to successfully reverse diabetes in mice.

Researchers concluded that the pain receptors don't secrete enough neuropeptides — chemical elements found in the brain — to keep the pancreatic islets, which produce insulin, working normally. Without insulin, humans die, and even the current replacement therapies cannot prevent side effects, such as heart attack, blindness, stroke, loss of limbs and kidney failure.

But by supplying neuropeptides to diabetes-prone mice, "the research group learned how to treat the abnormality . . . and even reversed established diabetes," without bad side effects, [a press release published earlier this week] said.

These findings apply to Type One diabetes, but the researchers believe the findings could also be used to treat Type Two diabetes. For now, the researchers are reportedly working to extend their testing to humans.
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