Researchers find possible solution for insulin dependence in type 1 diabetes

In what some are calling a potential cure for type 1 diabetes, researchers from UT Southwestern Medical Center have found that suppressing a single hormone may make the condition completely asymptomatic and eliminate the need for insulin injections.

Laboratory tests in mice showed that suppressing the hormone glucagon renders insulin unnecessary. Individuals who have type 1 diabetes who have the hormone suppressed may experience no side effects while going without insulin injections, the researchers said.

Their findings were reported in the latest issue of the journal Diabetes. They provide a new understanding of the role that insulin plays in the body, which may help researchers develop improved treatments and possibly even a cure for diabetes.

The researchers said that doctors are trained that insulin is the main hormone that regulates blood sugar levels. However, taking regular insulin injections is rarely enough for individuals with type 1 diabetes to control their blood sugar levels.

The findings show that glucagon may play a large, if not more important, role in controlling glucose levels. After elimination of the hormone, test subjects had completely normal blood sugar levels.

"We've all been brought up to think insulin is the all-powerful hormone without which life is impossible, but that isn't the case," said Dr. Roger Unger, the study’s chief researcher. "If diabetes is defined as restoration of glucose homeostasis to normal, then this treatment can perhaps be considered very close to a 'cure.'"

While there is plenty of excitement about the research, Unger said that there is still a ways to go before anyone with type 1 diabetes can benefit from the findings. Most importantly, the effect will have to be proven in humans. However, he and his team are hopeful that their study will someday result in a cure for the condition.