New findings by researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center may hold a cure for type 1 diabetes.
According to the findings, type 1 diabetes could be converted to an asymptomatic, non-insulin-dependent disorder by eliminating the actions of a specific hormone.
In the study, UT Southwestern scientists tested how mice genetically altered to lack working glucagon receptors responded to an oral glucose tolerance test. The test – which can be used to diagnose diabetes, gestational diabetes and prediabetes – measures the body’s ability to metabolize, or clear, glucose from the bloodstream.
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.
The researchers showed that, in mice, insulin 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.
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 alone cannot restore normal glucose tolerance. These new findings demonstrate that in mice, the elimination of glucagon action restores glucose tolerance to normal.