University of Exeter researchers have uncovered crucial information that could change how Type 1 Diabetes is treated, including the possibility that it may be viable to awaken dormant cells in order to reverse the disease.

Diabetes is a condition which stops the body producing sufficient amounts of insulin, the hormone that regulates sugar and carbohydrate levels in the blood. It was originally thought the condition developed after the number of these insulin-producing cells dropped by approximately 90 per cent.

New research conducted alongside the University of Oslo and the network of Pancreatic Organ Donors (nPOD) has found however, that this is only the case for very young children.

Following analysis of the largest ever collection of biobanked pancreas samples from people with type 1 Diabetes, the team discovered those who are diagnosed with diabetes before the age of seven “develop a more aggressive form of the disease than that seen in teenagers”, leaving them fewer insulin-producing cells in their pancreas when diagnosed – whilst those with onset type 1 diabetes developing in their teenage years still retain a large quantity of these missing cells.

Professor Noel Morgan of the University of Exeter Medical School described the findings as “incredibly exciting”, claiming that they “could open the doors to new treatments for young people who develop diabetes”.

“If we can find a way to reactivate these cells so that they resume insulin release, we may be able to slow or even reverse progression of this terrible disease,” he added.

According to Diabetes UK, around 400,000 people have been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, 30,000 of which being young people. With previous trials having mostly focused on older patients, the discovery means a possible change in how the disease is combatted.

Karen Addington, UK Chief Executive of type 1 diabetes charity JDRF, said: “A child diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of five faces up to 19,000 insulin injections and 50,000 finger-prick blood tests before they reach the age of 18. But research can bring us closer to the day we find the cure.”

The research was published in the journal Diabetes.

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