Insulin production may continue decades after type 1 diabetes onset

Insulin production may continue for decades after a diagnosis of type 1 diabetes, according to Massachusetts General Hospital. The research study appears in the March issue of the journal Diabetes Care.

The researchers also discovered that some type 1 diabetes patients have beta cell function even years after they believed they had lost pancreas function.

More than 180 patients with type 1 diabetes participated in the study. To test for beta cell function, scientists analyzed blood samples for C-peptide, an indicator of insulin secretion.

Results showed that C-peptide production continued to respond to blood glucose levels.

In addition, production could persist for decades after the onset of type 1 diabetes. For example, among participants living with the disease for 31 to 40 years, about 10 percent still produced C-peptide.

The study confirmed that the longer a person has type 1 diabetes, the lower the C-peptide levels. However, researchers discovered that the decline in C-peptide production is gradual and not sudden as traditionally believed for type 1 diabetes.

Researchers also found that beta cell function remained even at very low C-peptide levels.

“Our results contribute to a growing body of evidence suggesting there might be a longer window for therapeutic intervention in this disease,” said Denise Faustman, MD, PhD, associate professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and lead author of the study.

Researchers said that patients with low C-peptide levels or advanced disease might consider new therapies to preserve or encourage beta cell function and to prevent complications.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the body does not produce insulin. This form of the disease affects just 5 percent of all people living with diabetes. It's usually diagnosed in children and young adults.

Source: Massachusetts General Hospital, American Diabetes Association

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