Magazine article Science News

Novel Diabetes Strain Has Rapid Onset

Magazine article Science News

Novel Diabetes Strain Has Rapid Onset

Article excerpt

Every year, thousands of people, young and old, experience the malaise and nagging thirst that are characteristic of untreated type I diabetes. Also called juvenile-onset diabetes, this disease stems from the death of beta cells in the pancreas. These cells make insulin, the hormone that regulates sugar metabolism. In most patients, their own immune cells do the killing.

Japanese scientists have now confirmed that some patients have a peculiar kind of diabetes that doesn't fit this pattern. Instead of immune cells, an unknown agent--possibly a virus or a chemical in the environment--seems to destroy the beta cells. Moreover, these patients fall ill rapidly, the researchers report in the Feb. 3 NEW ENGLAND JOURNAL OF MEDICINE.

"We all have patients where we sometimes wonder what happened," says physician David C.W. Lau of the University of Calgary in Alberta. This study establishes "an important subtype of type I diabetes that is different from the conventional diabetes that we associate with children.... Diabetes is more complex than we previously thought."

In most cases, physicians can ascertain that a patient has type I diabetes by gauging symptoms and testing for diabetes-related antibodies in the blood, a sure sign of an immune attack on the pancreas. However, of 56 randomly selected Japanese patients newly diagnosed with the disease, 11 had no trace of such autoimmune antibodies but still showed high sugar concentrations in the blood and other pancreatic abnormalities. …

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