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Insulin dependence to be eliminated?

Type 1 diabetes could be converted to an asymptomatic, noninsulin-dependent disorder by eliminating the actions of a specific hormone, suggests research published in Diabetes. The findings demonstrate that insulin can become completely superfluous and its absence does not cause diabetes or any other abnormality when the actions of glucagon are suppressed. Glucagon, a hormone produced by the pancreas, prevents low blood sugar levels in healthy individuals, but causes high blood sugar in people with type 1 diabetes.


"We've all been brought up to think insulin is the all-powerful hormone without which life is impossible, but that isn't the case," indicates internist Roger Unger. "If diabetes is defined as restoration of glucose homeostasis to normal, then this treatment can perhaps be considered very close to a 'cure'."

Insulin treatment has been the gold standard for type 1 diabetes (insulin-dependent diabetes) in humans since its discovery in 1922, but even optimal regulation of type 1 diabetes with insulin atone cannot restore normal glucose tolerance. These new findings demonstrate that the elimination of glucagon action restores glucose tolerance to normal.

Normally, glucagon is released when the glucose--or sugar--level in the blood is low. In insulin deficiency, however, glucagon levels are inappropriately high and cause the liver to release excessive amounts of glucose into the bloodstream. This action is opposed by insulin, which directs the body's cells to remove sugar from the bloodstream. Unger's research previously found that insulin's benefits resulted from its suppression of glucagon.

In type 1 diabetes, which affects about 1,000,000 people in the U.S., the pancreatic islet cells that produce insulin are destroyed. As a countermeasure to this destruction, type 1 diabetics currently must take insulin multiple times a day to metabolize blood sugar, regulate blood-sugar levels, and prevent diabetic coma. They also must adhere to stringent dietary restrictions.

"Our findings suggest that, if there is no glucagon, it doesn't matter if you don't have insulin," observes Unger, a physician at the Dallas (Texas) VA Medical Center. "This does not mean insulin is unimportant It is essential for normal growth and development from neonatal to adulthood but, in adulthood, at least with respect to glucose metabolism, the role of insulin is to control glucagon--and if you don't have glucagon, then you don't need insulin."

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Title Annotation:Diabetes
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Date:Oct 1, 2011
Previous Article:Finding cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, etc.
Next Article:New ways of treating type 1 diabetes.

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