Type 1 Diabetes Research-What You Need to Know

Recently researchers at LJI reported they prevented beta cell deaths in mice by blocking nerve signals to the pancreas. Why is this important? They may be one step closer to understanding what causes diabetes. The hope is that understanding will lead to a cure. This is what you need to know.

What is the Pancreas?

Your pancreas is about six inches long. It lies in the back of the abdomen, on your right side behind your liver. The pancreas creates a cocktail of juices called enzymes.  These enzymes travel from the pancreas through a duct to the upper part of your intestine. There they break down the food you eat into fats, proteins, and starches.

Your pancreas also produces hormones that carry messages to other parts of your body. (Read more about the pancreas.)

One hormone the healthy pancreas makes is insulin. It makes insulin in specialized cells called beta cells.

What is Type I Diabetes

Image of symbols of syringe with need, pills, diabetic supplies, and medical symbols-type 1 diabetes-what you need to know
Allanakhan123 / CC BY-SA

Nearly 1.6 million Americans have a life-threatening, but treatable condition. Their beta cells die. When their beta cells die, their bodies do not produce insulin. It happens in every race, gender, and body size and shape. Even mammals can have type I diabetes.

Without insulin, you will fall ill within hours. If the high blood sugar (hyperglycemia) isn’t treated you will die. Death comes in days or may take as long as two weeks, depending on your general health and blood sugar levels. (Read more about diabetic ketoacidosis.)

There is no cure for diabetes. People who have type I diabetes must take insulin. Patients manage the disease with medication, a healthy lifestyle and diet and careful monitoring of the blood sugars. Type 1 diabetics can and do live long and happy lives. (Read more about how to manage diabetes.)

How do You Get Diabetes?

We know the beta cells of the pancreas produce insulin for the body. And we know insulin is essential for our body to turn the food we eat into energy for the cells of our body.

In type 1 Diabetics, the cells of the pancreas that make insulin die off. This dying off can be a long process that takes years before the person knows it’s a problem. It can appear at any age from newborn to a senior of advanced age.

While risk factors for type 1 diabetes include genetic and environmental factors, researchers don’t know why the disease seems to attack at random. Some scientists believe an autoimmune response may be what’s killing those cells. Autoimmune response is where the cells meant to fight off infection attack other cells in your body. In this case, your beta cells. (Read more about the possible causes of type 1 diabetes.)

The Research

image of white mouse in gloved hands--type 1 diabetes-what you need to know

Researchers at the LaJolla Institute for Immunology (LJI) are working to uncover the cause of type 1 diabetes. They’ve noticed that the beta cells in a diabetic’s pancreas die off in patches. Some areas have large patches that die and other areas are untouched.

There are many theories about why this occurs. Inadequate blood supply, an attack by a virus, and an autoimmune response are some theories.

They turned to a new field called neuroimmunology, which is the idea that nerve signals can affect immune cells. Could nerve cells drive immune cells to attack the pancreas?

They induced beta cell death in mice. Some mice weren’t untreated, some received beta blockers, and some were “denervated.” 

Denervation is a chemical or physical block that prevents nerve messages to pass. The block can be temporary (often used today in surgeries) or permanent. Here, they surgically cut the nerve or inject it with a neurotoxin or a medication that blocks nerve signals. Then they “used LJI’s world-class imaging facility to track the pattern of beta cell death in living mice.”

The “denervated” mice did not experience beta cell death. “It was like the pancreas had gone dark and  immune cells were unable to find their targets.”

They’ve Just Started

They need to do a lot more testing and research to confirm that this works.

But these results suggest that other autoimmune diseases may benefit from denervation. Arthritis, vitiligo, and lupus erythematosus are a few of the many autoimmune diseases. (Read more about autoimmune disease. )

Before this method can be used on humans, doctors first need a reliable way to predict who was at risk of developing type 1 diabetes. 

And, I’m guessing, there will need to be more research about the effects of denervation on other functions of the pancreas.

Science Provides Slow Hope

What you need to know is that it will take years to explore this treatment and its consequences. Perhaps it will also take years before people accept it as a preventative. You may remember that my niece has type 1 diabetes. Would I recommend she be an early adopter? My answer would depend on information they discover between now and then. If you knew positively that you or your child would develop type 1 diabetes, would you ask for permanent denervation?

Do You Recognize Diabetes, the Invisible Killer?

November 14th is World Diabetes Day and part of Diabetes Awareness Month. Why have a month dedicated to diabetes awareness? Because diabetes or pre-diabetes affects more than 100 million Americans and about 1 in 11 adults worldwide. That’s more than 500 million people worldwide and growing. The symptoms of diabetes are often so subtle that more than 46% of people with diabetes don’t know they have it! Take charge of your health. Be vigilant, know your risk factors, and have regular checkups. Know how to recognize diabetes, the invisible killer. 

Image is a blue circle around the words 14 November World Diabetes Day. A blue heart with a red blood drop is to the left of the words. Do You Recognize Diabetes, the Invisible Killer?

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a disease that occurs when your blood glucose, also called blood sugar, is too high. Blood glucose is your main source of energy and comes from the food you eat.  Insulin, a hormone made by the pancreas, helps glucose from food get into your cells to be used for energy. Sometimes your body doesn’t make enough—or any—insulin or doesn’t use insulin well. Glucose then stays in your blood and doesn’t reach your cells. (Definition from NIH.Gov health information.)

What Causes Diabetes?

There are different types of diabetes. Each has its own causes. 

Type 2 Diabetes is the most common. It affects nearly 90% of all who have the disease.Typically, it is caused by insulin resistance. The body’s cells don’t respond properly to the insulin that is in the body. We aren’t certain exactly why this happens but certain behaviors increase your risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes. (See Risk Factors below)

Type 1 Diabetes is an autoimmune reaction where the body attacks the insulin making cells of the pancreas.Having a family member with Type 1 slightly increases your risk of developing the disease. Scientists have linked some environmental factors to the disease and some viral infections. These things are under investigation but it needs more research.

Prediabetes is when your blood sugar levels are higher than normal but are not yet high enough to be diabetic. With lifestyle and dietary changes you can delay and perhaps prevent becoming diabetic. 

Pre-gestational diabetes occurs when blood sugars are high during pregnancy. Often the woman’s blood sugars return to normal after pregnancy, but that doesn’t mean she won’t ever get diabetes.

Diabetes is not caused by eating too much sugar or certain foods. A diet with lots of high-carbohydrate, processed foods resulting in weight gain has been shown to increase your risk of getting diabetes but doesn’t cause it.

Who Can Get Diabetes?

Anyone can get diabetes. There is no exception for the fat, thin, young, old, race, or gender. People with many risk factors are more likely to get diabetes than people who have fewer or no risk factors. But there is no guarantee.

Most commonly, Type 2 occurs in adults. However, more and more children are diagnosed with Type 2 each year.  

Type 1 Diabetes, once known as Juvenile Diabetes was considered a disease of infants, children, and young people. We know now that Type 1 Diabetes can affect anyone of any age. 

Are You at Risk?

How do you know if you might develop diabetes? There are certain things, risk factors, associated with the disease. 

Risk factors associated with diabetes include:

What are the Symptoms?

Often, the symptoms of diabetes are subtle. You may not recognize the symptoms because they are so mild. Or you might misdiagnose yourself. Your doctor may miss the symptoms because of other health issues you may have. Talk to your doctor about your risk factors. Be vigilant and knowledgeable. Protect yourself and your loved ones. Know how to recognize diabetes, the invisible killer.

The symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes can be mild or absent and include:

  • Excessive thirst and dry mouth
  • Frequent urination
  • Lack of energy, tiredness
  • Slow healing wounds
  • Recurrent infections in the skin
  • Blurred vision
  • Tingling or numbness in hands and feet.

People with type 2 diabetes may completely unaware they have diabetes for years. Those years of untreated diabetes greatly increase their risk of complications.

Symptoms of Type 1 Diabetes often presents as

  • Abnormal thirst and dry mouth
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Frequent urination
  • Lack of energy, tiredness
  • Constant hunger
  • Blurred vision
  • Bedwetting

These symptoms can be difficult to spot in small children. Be aware. If your child’s symptoms are persistent, see the doctor.

How is Diabetes Diagnosed?

The way to diagnose diabetes is to measure insulin and blood sugar in the blood.

Glycated hemoglobin (A1C) test. This blood test measures the percentage of blood sugar attached to the hemoglobin (oxygen-carrying protein in red blood cells). The results show your average blood sugar level for the past two or three months.

A normal A1C is below 5.7. If your A1C is between 5.7-6.4 it is prediabetes. A level higher than 6.5 percent on two separate tests means you have diabetes

Fasting Blood Sugar Test—Before they draw your blood for this test, you must have nothing to eat or drink overnight. Normal fasting blood sugars are 100 mg/dL (5.6 mmol/L) or less. A prediabetic has a fasting blood sugar level from 100 to 125 mg/dL (5.6 to 6.9 mmol/L). Above that, on two separate tests means you have diabetes.

Random Blood Sugar Test – a blood test taken regardless of when you last ate. If your blood sugar level is 200 or greater, it suggests that you have diabetes.

Oral glucose tolerance test. For this test, you fast overnight. The next morning, a tech or nurse will draw a fasting blood sugar level. Then you drink a sugary liquid. They take blood periodically for the next two hours and measure the blood sugar levels. High levels or levels that don’t go down at a normal rate may mean you have pregestational diabetes.

Your doctor may want to test your insulin levels to determine Insulin-resistance. If other hormonal issues may be a concern, additional blood tests may be ordered.

Need More Information?

Diabetes, the invisible killer, can kill before you know you have it. But diabetes doesn’t have to be a death sentence. Educate yourself. Go to reliable sites that will give you factual information. Yes, I recommend that you seek more than one. Find one that speaks in a way you understand.

There are many reputable sites. Three I recommend are Mayo Clinic, The American Diabetes Association or the International Diabetes Foundation.

Know your risk factors. Monitor your blood sugar. Eat a balanced diet and exercise.


Diabetes is a disease I know well from my previous career as a registered nurse. Unfortunately, I also have up-close and personal knowledge. Regular readers may remember that my niece has Type 1 Diabetes. My husband is an Insulin-dependent Type 2 Diabetic. I am a medication-controlled Type 2 Diabetic. Others in my family are exercise-and diet-controlled Diabetics. 

Not recognizing the disease, not managing the disease, and sometimes genetics can cause complications of diabetes. I’ll talk about treatment and some of the complications next week. 

In the meantime, live as healthy of a lifestyle as you can. Get regular checkups. Have your doctor monitor for diabetes. If you have risk factors, be proactive not reactive. Learn how to recognize diabetes, the invisible killer, before it causes irreparable harm to you or your loved ones. Do you know your blood sugar levels?

Your Gift Could Save a Life or Find a Cure

Finishing my Best Gifts posts, this charity is no surprise: The American Diabetes Association. Readers of this blog know that my niece and my husband are diabetics. Giving to the American Diabetes Association and their research partner, the American Diabetes Association Research Foundation are on my list. Your gift pays forward to the newly diagnosed, those struggling with the disease, and medical personnel who treat the disease. Your donations could save a life or help find the cure for diabetes.

Your Best Gift could save a life or cure diabetes. Here's why you should give to the American Diabetes Association.History

Founded in 1940 by twenty-six physicians, the Association was strictly for medical professionals. Their purpose was to address the increasing incidence of diabetes and the complications that arise from the disease. Membership was $2.00 per year.

The first annual meeting of the Association occurred on June 1, 1941. The keynote address was given by the co-discoverer of how to use insulin in treating diabetes, Charles Best. (English physiologist Sir Edward Albert Sharpey-Schafer discovered insulin in 1910. In 1921 Doctors Best and Fredrick Banting discovered how to extract insulin and began testing how to use it.)

Continuing research developed new forms of monitoring and testing and treating diabetes.

The Association brought in local affiliate associations and began to publish periodicals. In 1949 they held the first camp for children with diabetes.

In 1970 they reorganized into a voluntary association, for both lay and professional members, led by a Board of Directors.

The history of learning to treat diabetes and the Association’s involvement is long and very detailed. If you wish to learn more check out their timeline

What They Do

They provide local education, awareness, and camps for children across the nation.

The Association has printed educational materials for lay people and for medical professionals. These education materials include information about the various forms of the disease, about treatment options, about diet and exercise, and about living with diabetes (what to do if you’re sick among other situations).

The Association has a large advocacy program. They advocate for research, for access to care for diabetics, and for diabetic education at the community, state, and national level. The Association also has a legal advocacy program to assist diabetics who face discrimination in the workplace.

How to Give

Monetary donations can be one time, monthly, in memory of someone or in honor of someone. 

If you have diabetes, you, your family, friends, and caregivers can become a member of the Association

Consider donating your car, truck, boat, or RV. 

You can take part in one of the fundraising events put on by the Association.

Buy products from one of the national sponsors of the American Diabetes Association: Performance Bicycle, Catherines, Amazon Smile, Hilton HHonors, Survey Monkey, and Primal Wear. Learn more here.

Ask your workplace to sponsor a donation drive or a matching funds drive. 

You can create your own fundraiser event. 

And you can shop from the American Diabetes Association online store. 

Or, you can spread the word about their good deeds.

What Will You Give?

It’s a time of year when your donations can help save a life or find a cure. There are many medical charities out there that are worthy of your gift. But gifts given to the American Diabetes Association have a special place in my heart. Do you donate to or volunteer for medical charities or causes in December? Which ones? Is there one you support all year long?

Stand Up for Affordable Insulin

It’s the last week of November and I can’t let the month pass without talking about diabetes. I have a personal relationship with the devastation that diabetes can bring to a person and a family. The disease is terrible. Its toll on the body is all encompassing and can be life-limiting. We have no cure. If you have diabetes the treatment is to boost or replace your body’s insulin. But rising prices of insulin force some people to choose between essentials and insulin. Some people ration their insulin at lower than effective doses. This leads to significant consequences, including death. Please join me in signing the American Diabetes Association’s petition “Stand Up for Affordable Insulin.” Don’t understand why this is important? Please read on.

1.5 million Americans are diagnosed with diabetes every year.

Lynette M Burrows explains why you should sign the petition: Stand Up for Affordable Insulin

What is Diabetes?

It’s actually a collection of diseases where the body doesn’t produce enough insulin. There’s Type I diabetes, type II diabetes, and gestational diabetes.

Diabetes causes more deaths per year than breast cancer and AIDS combined and having diabetes nearly doubles your chance of having a heart attack.—The American Diabetes Association)

What is Insulin?

Insulin a hormone produced by your pancreas. Your body turns the food you eat into blood glucose or blood sugar. Insulin helps your body transfer your blood sugar from the bloodstream into your body’s cells. Your cells need the glucose, your blood doesn’t.

What is Blood Glucose?

Your body turns the food you eat into blood sugar or blood glucose. It’s carried in the bloodstream to the cells. It is the main source of fuel for your brain.

Your body is designed to keep your blood sugar levels constant. After you eat your blood sugar rises. Your pancreas secretes more insulin. The insulin allows the blood sugar to cross from the bloodstream into the cells. A few hours after you eat, your blood sugar goes back down. If it’s been a long time since you’ve eaten, your blood sugar dips.

Your cells use blood sugar to create energy. That energy is what your body uses to do all the things it must do to stay healthy, plus enable you to do the activities you need to do and love to do. (Obviously, this is a very simple explanation. Need more details? You can find an easy-to-understand explanation at WebMD.)

Chronic high of blood sugar or hyperglycemia can cause severe complications: cardiovascular disease, nerve damage (neuropathy), diabetic retinopathy (which can lead to blindness), kidney damage (diabetic nephropathy) or kidney failure. These cause more problems such as difficulty holding things, difficulty walking, amputations, and strokes.

Too low of blood sugar can cause problems, too.

Diabetics must balance medication, diet, exercise, and health on a daily basis. Changes in medication, diet, exercise, or health disrupt that balance and can cause hypo- or hyperglycemia.

Not A Choice

Diabetes isn’t a choice. It isn’t the result of eating poorly or eating too much sugar. Being overweight is a risk factor for developing diabetes, but other risk factors such as how much physical activity you get, family history, ethnicity, and age also play a role. Unfortunately, many people think that weight is the only risk factor for type 2 diabetes, but many people with type 2 diabetes are at a normal weight or only moderately overweight. (—From the American Diabetes Association)

Type I Diabetes

Once called Juvenile Diabetes, Type I Diabetes is an insulin-dependent disease that can strike anyone, any age, any race. If you are a Type I Diabetic your body does not produce any insulin. Nada. Zip.

1.25 million Americans have Type I Diabetes.

My beautiful, smart, funny, and strong niece has Type I Diabetes. She was diagnosed seven years ago at the age of eight. (Here’s my post about that.) She was and is not the least bit overweight.

There is no cure. The only treatment right now is insulin.

Type II Diabetes

Also called hyperglycemia or insulin resistance, Type II Diabetes is when your body isn’t able to use insulin properly. At first, your pancreas increases the amount of insulin in your blood. Over time your pancreas can’t keep up with your body’s needs. Many type II diabetics take medication by mouth and with diet and exercise are able to live long and healthy lives. I am a Type II diabetic controlling my disease with oral medications, diet, and exercise.

In some Type II diabetics, their pancreas stops producing insulin. This means they must take insulin by injection. My husband is an insulin-dependent, Type II diabetic. He has suffered all the complications except the retinopathy. As a result, he takes many medications every day. The cost of his insulin alone is more than what we spend on groceries each month. The total monthly cost of his medications gives me many a sleepless, worry-filled night. I can’t imagine how much worry it gives to people who live at or below the poverty line.

Gestational Diabetes

Many women develop diabetes while pregnant. Usually this happens around the 24th week of pregnancy. It’s important that pregnant women are followed by a physician and treated for gestational diabetes if they develop it. It doesn’t mean they had diabetes before they became pregnant. It also doesn’t mean they will have diabetes after the birth of their child. But treatment will prevent complications. Get more information here.

Insulin isn’t a luxury

Approximately 6 million Americans are insulin-dependent.

They must take insulin to live.

And believe me, Americans aren’t the only people who suffer from this disease. So it’s not like the pharmaceutical companies that produce insulin are selling to a rarified customer. Insulin shouldn’t cost more than a month of groceries. Please join me. Sign the petition. 

Stand up for affordable insulin now.