Type 1 diabetes (formerly known as "childhood", "juvenile" or "insulin-dependent" diabetes) is not exclusively a childhood problem: the adult incidence of Type 1 is noteworthy — many adults who contract Type 1 diabetes are misdiagnosed with Type 2 due to the misconception of Type 1 as a disease of children — and since there is no cure as of yet, all children with Type 1 diabetes will grow up to be adults with Type 1 diabetes.
There is currently no preventive measure that can be taken against type 1 diabetes. Most people affected by type 1 diabetes are otherwise healthy and of a healthy weight when onset occurs, but they can lose weight quickly and dangerously, if not diagnosed in a relatively short amount of time. Although the cause of Type 1 diabetes is still not fully understood, diet and exercise may help insulin to act more effectively.
The most useful laboratory test to distinguish Type 1 from Type 2 diabetes is the C-peptide assay, which is a measure of endogenous insulin production since external insulin (to date) has included no C-peptide. However, C-peptide is not absent in Type 1 diabetes until insulin production has fully ceased, which may take months. The presence of anti-islet antibodies (to Glutamic Acid Decarboxylase, Insulinoma Associated Peptide-2 or insulin), or lack of insulin resistance, determined by a glucose tolerance test, would also be suggestive of Type 1. As opposed to that, many Type 2 diabetics still produce insulin internally, and all have some degree of insulin resistance.
Testing for GAD 65 antibodies has been proposed as an improved test for differentiating between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.
This vulnerability is not shared by everyone, for not everyone infected by these organisms develops Type 1 diabetes. This has suggested a genetic vulnerability and there is indeed an observed inherited tendency to develop Type 1. It has been traced to particular HLA genotypes, though the connection between them and the triggering of an auto-immune reaction is poorly understood. Wide-scale genetic studies have shown links between genetic vulnerabilities for type 1 diabetes and Multiple Sclerosis and Crohn's Disease.
Some researchers believe that the autoimmune response is influenced by antibodies against cow's milk proteins. A large retrospective controlled study published in 2006 strongly suggests that infants who were never breastfed had a risk for developing Type 1 diabetes twice that of infants who were breastfed for at least three months. The mechanism, if any, is not understood. No connection has been established between autoantibodies, antibodies to cow's milk proteins, and Type 1 diabetes. A subtype of Type 1 (identifiable by the presence of antibodies against beta cells) typically develops slowly and so is often confused with Type 2. In addition, a small proportion of Type 1 cases have the hereditary condition maturity onset diabetes of the young (MODY) which can also be confused with Type 2.
Vitamin D in doses of 2000 IU per day given during the first year of a child's life has been connected in one study in Northern Finland (where intrinsic production of Vitamin D is low due to low natural light levels) with an 80% reduction in the risk of getting Type 1 diabetes later in life.
Some suggest that deficiency of Vitamin D3 (one of several related chemicals with Vitamin D activity) may be an important pathogenic factor in Type 1 diabetes independent of geographical latitude.
Some chemicals and drugs specifically destroy pancreatic cells. Vacor (N-3-pyridylmethyl-N'-p-nitrophenyl urea), a rodenticide introduced in the United States in 1976, selectively destroys pancreatic beta cells, resulting in Type 1 diabetes after accidental or intentional ingestion. Vacor was withdrawn from the U.S. market in 1979. Zanosar is the trade name for streptozotocin, an antibiotic and antineoplastic agent used in chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer, that kills beta cells, resulting in loss of insulin production.
Other pancreatic problems, including trauma, pancreatitis or tumors (either malignant or benign), can also lead to loss of insulin production. The exact cause(s) of Type 1 diabetes are not yet fully understood, and research on those mentioned, and others, continues.
In December 2006, researchers from Toronto Hospital for Sick Children revealed research that shows a link between type 1 diabetes and the immune and nervous system. Using mice, the researchers discovered that a control circuit exists between insulin-producing cells and their associated sensory (pain-related) nerves. It's being suggested that faulty nerves in the pancreas could be a cause of type 1 diabetes.
Untreated Type 1 diabetes can lead to one form of diabetic coma, diabetic ketoacidosis, which can be fatal. At present, insulin treatment must be continued for a lifetime; this will change when better treatment, or a cure, is discovered. Continuous glucose monitors have been developed which can alert patients to the presence of dangerously high or low blood sugar levels, but the lack of widespread insurance coverage has limited the impact these devices have had on clinical practice so far.
In more extreme cases, a pancreas transplant can help restore proper glucose regulation. However, the surgery and accompanying immunosuppression required is considered by many physicians to be more dangerous than continued insulin replacement therapy and is therefore often used only as a last resort (such as when a kidney must also be transplanted or in cases where the patient's blood glucose levels are extremely volatile). Experimental replacement of beta cells (by transplant or from stem cells) is being investigated in several research programs and may become clinically available in the future. Thus far, beta cell replacement has only been performed on patients over age 18, and with tantalizing successes amidst nearly universal failure.
In one variant of this procedure, islet cells are injected into the patient's liver, where they take up residence and begin to produce insulin. The liver is expected to be the most reasonable choice because it is more accessible than the pancreas, and the islet cells seem to produce insulin well in that environment. The patient's body, however, will treat the new cells just as it would any other introduction of foreign tissue. The immune system will attack the cells as it would a bacterial infection or a skin graft. Thus, the patient also needs to undergo treatment involving immunosuppressants, which reduce immune system activity.
Recent studies have shown that islet cell transplants have progressed to the point that 58% of the patients in one study were insulin independent one year after the operation. Ideally, it would be best to use islet cells which will not provoke this immune reaction, but investigators are also looking into placing islets into a protective coating which enables insulin to flow out while protecting the islets from white blood cells.
The International Diabetes Federation is a worldwide alliance of over 160 countries to address diabetes research and treatment. The American Diabetes Association funds some work on type 1 but devotes much of its resources to type 2 diabetes due to the increasing prevalence of the latter type. Diabetes Australia is involved in promoting research and education in Australia on both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. The Canadian Diabetes Association is also involved in educating, researching, and sustaining sufferers of Type 1 Diabetics in Canada. Pacific Northwest Diabetes Research Institute conducts clinical and basic research on type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
Diabetes type 1 is caused by the destruction of sufficient beta cells in the body; these cells, which are found in the Islets of Langerhans in the pancreas, produce and secrete insulin, the single hormone responsible for allowing glucose to enter from the blood into cells, and also the hormone amylin, another hormone required for glucose homeostasis, as well as the counterregulatory hormone glucagon which is secreted by the alpha cells. Hence, the phrase "curing diabetes type 1" means "causing a maintenance or restoration of the endogenous ability of the body to produce insulin in response to the level of blood glucose" and full restoration of the counterregulatory function. This section does not deal with approaches other than that (for instance, closed-loop integrated glucometer/insulin pump products), which could potentially increase the quality-of-life for some who have diabetes type 1, and may by some be termed "artificial pancreas". Instead, it only deals with such approaches for thoroughly curing the underlying condition of diabetes type 1, by enabling the body to endogenously, in vivo, produce insulin in response to the level of blood glucose.
A biological approach to the artificial pancreas is to implant bioengineered tissue containing islet cells, which would secrete the amounts of insulin, amylin and glucagon needed in response to sensed glucose.
When islet cells have been transplanted via the Edmonton protocol, insulin production (and glycemic control) was restored, but at the expense of immunosuppression. Encapsulation of the islet cells in a protective coating has been developed to block the immune response to transplanted cells, which relieves the burden of immunosuppression and benefits the longevity of the transplant.
One concept of the bio-artificial pancreas uses encapsulated islet cells to build an islet sheet which can be surgically implanted to function as an artificial pancreas.
This islet sheet design consists of:
Islet sheet with encapsulation research is pressing forward with large animal studies at the present, with plans for human clinical trials within a few years.
Other researchers, most notably Dr. Aaron I. Vinik of the Strelitz Diabetes Research Institute of Eastern Virginia Medical School and a former colleague, Dr. Lawrence Rosenberg (now at McGill University in Montreal, Canada) discovered in a protein they refer to as INGAP, which stands for Islet Neogenesis Associated Protein back in 1997. INGAP is a gene that is responsible for regenerating the islets that make insulin and other important hormones in the pancreas.
INGAP has something of a checkered history as far as commercialization is concerned. Although it appears promising, the rights to commercialize it have traded hands a repeatedly over, having once been owned by Procter & Gamble Pharmaceuticals, but P&G later dropped it. The rights were then acquired by GMP Companies. More recently, Kinexum Metabolics, Inc. has since sublicensed INGAP Peptide from GMP Companies for further clinical trials. Kinexum has continued development under the guidance of Dr. G. Alexander Fleming, a well-known authority on metabolic drug development, who headed diabetes drug review at the FDA for over a decade. As of 2008, the protein had undergone Phase 2 Human Clinical Trials, and the developers were investigating the results. At the American Diabetes Association's 68th Annual Scientific Sessions in San Francisco, Kinexum announced a Phase 2 human clinical trial with a combination therapy, consisting of DiaKine's Lisofylline (LSF) and Kinexum's INGAP peptide, which is expected to begin in late 2008. The trial will be unique in that patients who are beyond the 'newly diagnosed' period will be included in the study. Most current trials seeking to treat people with type 1 diabetes do not include those with established disease.
However, there were no control subjects, which means that all of the processes could have been completely or partially natural. Secondly, no theory for the mechanism of cure has been promoted. It is too early to say whether the results will be positive or negative in the long run.
The skin cells were first transformed into stem cells and then had been differentiated into insulin-secreting cells.
However, other scientists cast doubts, as the research papers fail to detail the new cells' glucose responsiveness and the amount of insulin they are capable of producing.
Technology for gene therapy is advancing rapidly such that there are multiple pathways possible to support endocrine function, with potential to practically cure diabetes.
Entities are listed alphabetically along with their status of research in that field, so that also entities which ceased research into finding a cure to diabetes type 1 may be listed.