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Sunday, August 29, 1999 Published at 22:52 GMT 23:52 UK


Health

Diabetes breakthrough could lead to treatment

Type one diabetics require frequent insulin injections

A therapy for the a form of diabetes could be on the horizon after a scientific breakthrough.

Type one diabetes sufferers cannot produce enough insulin, the natural substance which controls the amount of glucose (sugar) in the bloodstream.

This is because cells in the body which produce insulin have been damaged.

And once the damage has taken place, sufferers rely on injections of insulin to control their blood sugar levels - without the daily injections, death is inevitable.


[ image: Life as a diabetic often requires an inconvenient blood testing regime]
Life as a diabetic often requires an inconvenient blood testing regime
But British researcher Dr Susan Wong, working at Yale University School of Medicine, believes she has found how cells from the body's immune system attack and damage the cells.

This is an important step in finding ways to block this, and produce a treatment, or possibly even a vaccine.

What Dr Wong's team have found is an molecule that can provoke the body's defenses into an attack. It is hoped that eventually it can given in the form of a treatment which will make the immune system tolerant of it.

Then the body will leave the insulin-producing cells alone to do their job, and remove the need for injections.

Diabetes experts from around the world have hailed the team's findings.

'Amazing finding'

Dr Mark Peakman, from Kings College Hospital in London, is working on a similar project.

He said: "I was excited when I heard about this - it's a pretty amazing finding.

"If you know what the targets are, there is a possibility of developing a way of blocking the attack."

But Dr Peakman warned that such experimentation would demand great care, as an extra supply of the molecule could provoke a massive immune reaction.

The study was published in the September edition of the journal Nature Medicine.

Type I diabetes sufferers usually develop the condition as children or young adults.

If poorly controlled it can cause blindness, stroke, kidney failure and amputation.



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