FRIDAY, Nov. 12 (HealthDay News) -- Even as the threat of
diabetes continues to grow, scientists have made significant
discoveries in the past year that might one day lead to ways to
stop the blood sugar disease in its tracks.
That's some good news as World Diabetes Day is observed this
Sunday. Created in 1991 as a joint project between the
International Diabetes Federation and the World Health Organization
to bring more attention to the public health threat of diabetes,
World Diabetes Day was officially recognized by the United Nations
One of the more exciting findings in type 1 diabetes research
this year came from the lab of Dr. Pere Santamaria at University of
Calgary, where researchers developed a vaccine that successfully
reversed diabetes in mice. What's more, the vaccine was able to
target only those immune cells that were responsible for destroying
the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas.
"The hope is that this work will translate to humans," said Dr. Richard Insel, chief scientific officer for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. "And what's exciting is that they've opened up some pathways we didn't even know were there."
The other avenue of type 1 research that Insel said has
progressed significantly this year is in beta cell function.
Pedro Herrera, at the University of Geneva Medical School, and
his team found that the adult pancreas can actually regenerate
alpha cells into functioning beta cells. Other researchers,
according to Insel, have been able to reprogram other cells in the
body into beta cells, such as the acinar cells in the pancreas and
cells in the liver. This type of cell manipulation is called
reprogramming, a different and less complex process than creating
induced pluripotent stem cells, so there are fewer potential
problems with the process, he said.
Another exciting development that came to fruition this past
year was in type 1 diabetes management. The first closed loop
artificial pancreas system was officially tested, and while there's
still a long way to go in the regulatory process, Insel said there
have been "very promising results."
Unfortunately, not all diabetes news this past year was good
One of the biggest stories in type 2 diabetes was the U.S. Food
and Drug Administration's decision to restrict the sale of the type
2 diabetes medication rosiglitazone (Avandia) amid concerns that
the drug might increase the risk of cardiovascular complications.
The manufacturer of Avandia, GlaxoSmithKline, was also ordered to
get an independent review of clinical trials run by the
Dr. Joel Zonszein, director of the Clinical Diabetes Center at
the Montefiore Medical Center in New York City, said one of the
biggest problems he's seen stem from the Avandia debate is that
many people don't want to be on
any diabetes medications now. Unfortunately, he noted, unless
people can really make lifestyle changes and stick with them for
the long term, they may need medication to get their diabetes under
Perhaps the most disheartening diabetes news came just last week
when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced
that if America stays on its current path, one in three Americans
will have diabetes by 2050. Currently, the number of new diabetes
cases annually is about 8 per 1,000 people, and that number is
predicted to jump to 15 per 1,000 in 2050, according to CDC
One bright note in type 2 research was the most recent finding
from the Look AHEAD study, a 10-year prospective study to chart the
effects of aggressive weight loss efforts and compare those to
standard care. This year, the four-year results came in, finding
that "weight loss is clearly beneficial," said Dr. Sue Kirkman,
senior vice president of medical affairs and community information
for the American Diabetes Association.
"That message tends to get lost, but the effects of weight loss look as good as the results would for a drug that would end up getting approved. And, you don't have to lose huge amounts of weight to make a difference. In terms of diabetes prevention, losing 5 to 7 percent of your weight will help," she said.
Another piece of good news was continued research that showed
that for patients who are morbidly obese, bariatric weight-loss
surgery can help stop type 2 diabetes almost immediately.
"For the right patient, bariatric surgery is a good surgery. But it has risks and it has side effects, and really it's just putting a big band-aid on the problem," said Zonszein.
"The magic bullet is prevention," said Zonszein. "We have to give the message that prevention helps. If you're at risk of diabetes, or you're early in the disease, you need a plan to lose weight and exercise. Ask your doctor for help. With the right treatment plan, you may be able to delay diabetes for years," he said.
To learn more about World Diabetes Day, visit the
International Diabetes Federation.