Are the insulin-producing islet cells simply dormant, not dead? That’s what some scientists now believe.
Researchers at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom believe that islet cells are only dead for those who were diagnosed very young. Those who were diagnosed after age six may still have some islet cells still present, just dormant.
“It was previously thought that teenagers with type 1 diabetes had lost around 90 per cent of their beta cells but, by looking in their pancreas, we have discovered that this is not true,” Professor Noel Morgan of Exeter University Medical School told the UK Telegraph. His team believes it may be possible to reawaken those islet cells.
Researchers at the University of Exeter believe it may be possible to awaken the dormant cells and reverse the disease.
“In fact, those diagnosed in their teens still have many beta cells left – this suggests that the cells are dormant, but not dead. If we can find a way to reactivate these cells so that they resume insulin release, we may be able to slow or even reverse progression of this terrible disease,” Morgan says.
Collaborating with scientists at the University of Oslo, the team looked at nearly 400 pancreas samples. The samples showed that those diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age six or younger developed a more aggressive form of the disease. That’s because the children had a condition called insulitis, or an inflammatory process that killed off nearly all the beta cells, the type of islet cells that make insulin. But those diagnosed older — teens and beyond — have a surprising amount of beta cells still around, but they just aren’t working.
But they still don’t know how to turn those cells back on.
“Quite simply, and sadly, I don’t know,” Morgan told the Telegraph. “However there is evidence that this can happen when the (cells) are kept outside the body for a few days, so understanding how to achieve this is not a complete pipe dream.
“Our next step is to investigate why diabetes progresses differently in younger and older children, with a view to understanding how we could treat both groups more effectively,” explained Dr Sarah Richardson, a co-author on the study,