When insulin was discovered in 1923, many doctors and researchers thought that a diabetes cure had been found. However, it turned out that insulin could only help patients manage the disease, not cure it. Since then, the number of people suffering from Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes has grown, and the medical profession expects the numbers to continue growing, especially as obesity levels skyrocket across the world. Diabetes is a chronic illness that can often afflict people for their entire lives. Finding a cure has become a scientific necessity.
Anyone with diabetes has to monitor their insulin production and blood glucose levels on a daily basis. Even when treatment is managed well, diabetes can still lead to serious diseases including heart disease, kidney problems, vision loss, and nerve damage. Finding a cure would mean that doctors would have the ability to return a patient’s glucose in the blood stream to normal functioning levels without repeated injections of insulin and medication.
Finding a cure for diabetes will have to target and eradicate both types of the diabetes illnesses. Type I diabetes is an autoimmune illness, where the body attacks its own cells in the pancreas, where insulin is naturally produced. With Type 2 diabetes, the pancreas does manage to produce insulin, but the body rejects it or refuses to use it. Researchers are not sure if one cure will work for both types of diabetes, or if a separate cure will be necessary for each.
Type 2 diabetes is often preventable, while Type 1 is not. People who suffer from Type 2 diabetes can often send the illness into remission by losing weight and making changes to their diets and lifestyles. Researchers have made great progress in finding a cure for Type 2 through the use of gastric bypass surgery. This weight loss surgery has been successful in helping people lose large quantities of weight. Studies have shown that people with Type 2 diabetes who have this surgery begin to send their diabetes into remission even before any weight is loss. Scientists and doctors find this promising because it means that the digestive tract might have a role to play in curing diabetes, and restructuring that part of the body during surgery might help to beat the disease altogether. Following this path has become the focus of researchers attempting to cure diabetes.
The challenge in looking for a cure for Type 1 diabetes is that no one really knows what causes it. There are likely genetic issues involved, but no two patients are alike when it comes to family history or genetic makeup. It has been difficult for doctors and scientists to get to the root of this disease in order to cure it. There are environmental factors that influence the development of Type 1 diabetes as well, and scientists are not sure if those factors are food, sun exposure, intestinal bacteria, or viruses in the system. While Type 2 diabetes can be reversed with weight loss and changes in diet, once someone is diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, the beta cells in the pancreas that are attacked cannot fight back, and there is no way to delay the disease or send it into remission.
Researchers are working to develop vaccines for the autoimmune system in the hopes that it will steer the system back into shape once Type 1 diabetes gets hold of a person’s body. This vaccine would allow beta cells to replenish themselves in the pancreas so that insulin could be produced naturally again. While repressing the entire immune system of a patient would effectively cure diabetes, it would also put the body at an extreme risk for contracting other deadly diseases and illnesses. So instead of shutting down the immune system, scientists are working to alter certain components within the immune system that will reintroduce and protect beta cells successfully.
These vaccines are being tested on mice and human subjects. Some of these vaccines are suppressing specific parts of the immune system that are responsible for attacking the beta cells. Other vaccines are helping the immune system get comfortable with substances such as insulin so that the tendency to attack and kill that which produces insulin is removed. These treatments are being given to test subjects orally and nasally to determine the quickest and safest way to impact the immune system.
The disease has been cured in test mice. Mice that have been given Type 1 diabetes have been cured with the administration of these vaccines. However, with human subjects there are complications that research still needs to address. The most recent cure was called GAD65, and even though there were very high hopes that it would be a diabetes cure, the beta cells in people diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes were unable to be saved. Another problem that researchers face in their human subjects is that the human immune system is smart. It gets better at destroying the beta cells that the pancreas needs as time goes on.
Trials continue to move forward with that drug and others, however, and doctors are hopeful that the dosing amounts and timing might have something to do with its success. There are also new attempts at completely resetting the immune system rather than trying to adjust parts of it. Studies have shown that replacing a person’s immune system entirely can help people who formerly had Type 1 diabetes produce insulin on their own again, with a new immune system. Researchers are following this path as they also continue to tweak the vaccines they have developed.
There are many possible paths to a diabetes cure. Scientists, researchers, and doctors are working hard to find the path that fits. While the numbers of people with diabetes continues to rise, the urgency for finding a cure is also reaching a new level. Doctors have warned that complications from diabetes will be a huge health problem in coming years. It will be difficult and expensive to treat, which makes the diabetes cure a necessity for physical and financial reasons.