Rodent of the Week:
A different approach to treating Type 1 diabetes
January 28, 2011|By Shari Roan, Los Angeles Times
It may be possible to nearly cure Type 1 diabetes in the future, researchers said this week, based on rodent studies that show a particular hormone can be altered to disrupt the disease process.
Scientists at UT Southwestern Medical Center studied the hormone glucagon, which prevents low blood sugar in healthy people and causes high blood sugar in people with Type 1 diabetes. When glucagon was suppressed in mice, the hormone insulin became unimportant. Glucose tolerance returned to normal.
"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," the senior author of the study, Dr. Roger Unger, said in a news release. "If diabetes is defined as restoration of glucose homeostasis to normal, then this treatment can perhaps be considered very close to a 'cure.' "
The studies were performed in mice that had healthy insulin levels but did not have functioning glucagon receptors. When the mice were given an oral glucose tolerance test -- which measures the ability of the body to clear glucose from the bloodstream -- the mice responded normally. They also responded normally when their insulin-producing cells were destroyed. Mice without insulin and glucagon functioning did not develop diabetes.
Studies will now turn to the question of whether there is a way to block the action of glucagon in humans in order to minimize the need for insulin therapy. The study appears in the February issue of the journal Diabetes.