British scientists take major step forward in understanding type 1 diabetes

by Barbara Hewitt on June 13, 2018

The rapid decline in insulin production that causes type 1 diabetes continues to fall over seven years and then stabilises, new research has found.

A team at the University of Exeter Medical School in the UK found evidence that the amount of insulin produced declines by almost 50% each year for seven years. At that point, the insulin levels stabilise.

Science Lab


The researchers say that the finding is a major step forward in understanding type 1 diabetes and contradicts previous beliefs that the insulin produced by people with the condition drops relentlessly with time.

It offers the hope that by understanding what changes after seven years, new strategies could be developed to preserve insulin secreting beta-cells in people with type 1 diabetes.

The team studied 1,549 people with type 1 diabetes from Exeter in South West England and Tayside in Scotland and measured C-peptide, which is produced at the same time and in the same quantities as the insulin that regulates blood sugar.

By measuring C-peptide levels in blood or in urine, scientists can tell how much insulin a person is producing themselves, even if they are taking insulin injections as treatment.

‘This finding is really exciting. It suggests that a person with type 1 diabetes will keep any working beta-cells they still have seven years after diagnosis,’ said lead researcher Dr Beverley Shields from the University of Exeter Medical School.

‘We are not sure why this is. It may well be that there is a small group of resilient beta-cells resistant to immune attack and these are left after all the susceptible beta-cells are destroyed. Understanding what is special about these resilient beta-cells may open new pathways to treatment for type 1 diabetes,’ she explained.

Type 1 diabetes commonly starts in childhood but can develop at any age, and causes the body’s own immune system to attack and destroy the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, leaving the patient dependent on lifelong insulin injections.

‘Now we know there is a seven year switch and the next question is why. Any insights into halting the relentless destruction of the precious insulin-producing cells are valuable,’ said Professor Andrew Hattersley, a consultant in Diabetes at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital and Research Professor at the University of Exeter Medical School.

Karen Addington, UK chief executive of the type 1 diabetes charity JDRF, also believes that the research is important. ‘These results provide further evidence that the immune system’s assault on insulin producing beta cells is not as complete as we once believed and may change over time,’ she said.

‘This further opens the door to identifying ways to preserve insulin production in people diagnosed with or living with type 1 diabetes,’ she added.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please see your doctor before making any changes to your diabetes management plan.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Ivan June 19, 2018 at 8:46 am

So what are your future plans for this major break thru? How does this help types1 after 7 years?


Ivan June 21, 2018 at 8:38 am

Funny how I only heard of this major research here on this website and no where else.


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: