As advances in scientific research discover more about the workings of the condition, it gives hope to diabetes sufferers worldwide that one day there may be a ‘cure’.
Below, we look at the latest information and research, to assess how far away that day may be, and how to cope in the interim
Diabetes Type 1
Around 10% of diabetes cases are Type 1, (the others being Type 2, and Juvenile Diabetes). Type 1 diabetes is the most difficult to control, as it’s an autoimmune condition.
Whereas the others may be influenced or even banished by diet changes and more exercise, this condition requires regular monitoring of blood sugar levels, and a regime of constant insulin injections.
However, medical research at the beginning of 2016 by scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology broke new barriers, demonstrating the ability to ‘switch off’ the disease in animals, for up to six months. In humans, that would be the equivalent of several years.
This came hot on the heels of research in 2014 at Harvard, where scientists discovered how to make insulin-producing cells, in large quantities. The two pieces of shared research now mean that human trials could be just a few years away.
Artificial Pancreas Research
The charity Diabetes UK is also actively involved in many projects dealing with prevention and management of diabetes. One of their largest investments has been concerned with artificial pancreas research, supporting clinical trials conducted in a home environment by pregnant women.
In brief, the artificial pancreas is a small, portable unit that continuously monitors the levels of glucose, and then calculates insulin required, before delivering the insulin automatically via a pump. The results of the trials were excellent, with all women reporting ease of use, and much longer times within their target glucose levels. They all went on to deliver healthy babies too.
More research is planned on different subject groups, but at the time of writing (January 2017), this technology is likely to be available in the USA from the spring onwards.
Pancreas Transplants – Are They The Answer?
For the small few, yes. But out of approximately 1 million Type 1 diabetics in the UK, only 200 or so will be offered a transplant each year. This is because the risks of surgery outweigh the benefits of using insulin injections, where a patient is controlling their insulin levels well with injections.
However, in certain cases, such as severe hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar levels – in spite of good insulin control), it may be offered. Alternatively, for people with severe kidney disease, it could be an option, in conjunction with a kidney transplant.
If a healthy pancreas is transplanted into the body, it should start producing insulin, relieving any diabetes symptoms. However, there are side effects to the operation, including the need to take immunosuppressants (to stop the immune system attacking your new organ), for the rest of your life.
Type 2 Diabetes
The good news is approximately 3 out of 5 cases of Type 2 diabetes can be delayed or prevented, just through better diet and more exercise.
Certain factors, such as your family history, age or ethnicity, can’t be altered. But other areas you can definitely influence are your diet and the amount of exercise you take. Just small changes can yield huge differences.
To reverse diabetes type 2, you need to take the strain off your insulin-producing cells. This is done by eating lower calorie diets, with a higher concentration of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Cut down on carbohydrates – especially things like white bread, cakes and biscuits. Eliminate sugary drinks. These are all foods with high calories, and little to no nutritional content. You’re filling your body, but not feeding it – and forcing your insulin levels to a ‘high’ to cope with processing the food.
See your doctor for advice on where to begin before embarking upon any changes.