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Wednesday, 12 September, 2001, 17:57 GMT 18:57 UK
'Infectious diabetes' theory slammed
lab work
Laboratory tests revealed how the protein worked
A scientist who says that infection cannot be ruled out as a cause of diabetes has been attacked by a leading charity.

Professor Garth Cooper, from the University of Auckland, has been described as "irresponsible" by Diabetes UK.

They, and other scientists, say there is no evidence that the disease can be passed from one person to another.

Professor Garth Cooper says research raises the question of whether an infectious agent can cause diabetes in the same way that "rogue prions" may cause vCJD.

Insulin-deficient

In people with late-onset, or type II diabetes, the pancreas often loses its ability to produce enough of a hormone called insulin.

This is vital in the control of levels of sugar in the blood - if the body fails to do this over a long period, it can result in severe disability, and boost the chances of heart disease.


It's irresponsible for this scientist to even raise the idea before he has the evidence to back it up

Spokesman, Diabetes UK
Scientists have noticed that many type II diabetics have deposits of a protein called amylin in the pancreas.

These remind them of similar "amyloid" plaques which are characteristic of the brain tissue of Alzheimer's disease sufferers, and many are convinced that the presence of the pancreatic plaques is responsible for the death of vital cells which make insulin.

In normal circumstances, amylin has a role to play in helping muscles use blood sugar - however, the amylin in the plaques appears to be constructed from a "corrupted", or "misfolded" version of the protein.

Echoes of CJD

Here there are echoes of the way that BSE and vCJD attack the human brain.

The deposits which give the brain its trademark spongy appearance in vCJD are similar to those in the pancreas formed of misfolded amylin.

In addition, in the test tube, the misfolded amylin proteins appear to be able to set off a destructive chain reaction in which normal amylin proteins it meets are refolded to resemble the misfolded versions.

This again is similar to the way that the misfolded protein "prions" thought to be behind vCJD work.

And just as it is thought that the prions which cause vCJD can be "caught" by eating meat infected with BSE prions, Professor Cooper told New Scientist magazine that no-one could be sure that amylin proteins could not carry the disease.

He said: "I don't think you can say for certain that it is contagious, a la prion. I don't think we know enough to be sure."

But he said that the theory could not be ruled out.

A spokesman for Diabetes UK said that there was "no evidence whatsoever" that diabetes, in any form, could be transmitted from person to person.

He added: "It's irresponsible for this scientist to even raise the idea before he has the evidence to back it up.

"This sort of claim could cause victimisation of people with diabetes."

See also:

27 Aug 01 | Health
Insulin pill hope for diabetics
10 Jun 01 | Health
Diabetes deaths 'unnecessary'
11 Sep 01 | Health
Drug to prevent diabetes
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