01 February 2011

Alternative Type 1 Diabetes Treatment Considered

Usually, one deals with Type 1 diabetes (early onset) with insulin treatments. But, controlling another hormone can also solve the problem in mice, without regular monitoring of blood sugar levels.

[I]nsulin becomes 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. It causes high blood sugar in people with type 1 diabetes. . . . elimination of glucagon action restores glucose tolerance to normal. . . .

The researchers found that the mice with normal insulin production but without functioning glucagon receptors responded normally to the test. The mice also responded normally when their insulin-producing beta cells were destroyed. The mice had no insulin or glucagon action, but they did not develop diabetes.

"These findings suggest that if there is no glucagon, it doesn't matter if you don't have insulin. . . . 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.

Of course, before this can be used medicinally, one needs a good way to disable glucagon receptors - perhaps with drugs, perhaps with surgery, or perhaps with gene therapy, a type of treatment that is has been used only a handful of time theraputically and never in humans for this condition.

Still the possibility that there may be an entirely different way of treating type 1 diabetes than the one that has been the norm since 1922 is an exciting development.

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