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Diabetes Health Center

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Promising Diabetes Treatment Not for Everyone

WebMD Health News

June 6, 2000 -- A new treatment that may prove to be a beacon of hope for people with type 1 diabetes may be little more than a glaring reminder for people with type 2 diabetes of how the diseases differ.

Both types of the disease are called diabetes, but they harm the body in different ways, and type 1, in the short term, is much more life threatening than type 2. "They're both problems with insulin -- that's their common denominator," Suzanne Gebhart, MD, professor of medicine at Emory University School of Medicine and endocrine section chief at the Emory Clinic, tells WebMD. The similarities just about end there.

Insulin is produced by islet cells in the pancreas and is necessary for maintaining proper levels of sugar in the blood. In type 1, the islet cells don't function properly, so the people don't get the insulin they need. Daily shots of insulin are needed to prevent life-threatening reactions. A new study to be released in TheNew England Journal of Medicine details successful transplantations of islet cells into the bodies of seven people suffering from advanced stages of type 1 diabetes. Because their bodies can now produce their own insulin, the people no longer need the shots, and hopefully, they may not face the side effects of their diabetes.

About 90% of people with diabetes have type 2. It generally begins later in life, and about 85% of the people affected by it are overweight. Whether that excess weight actually causes the diabetes is still open to debate.

One thing is for sure, though; the islet cells of type 2 diabetics do the job they're supposed to. The problem is the body doesn't use the insulin that's produced properly, so the cells keep producing more and more insulin to less and less effect. Eventually, the islet cells can't meet the demand, leaving the patient with constantly high levels of sugar in the blood and the complications that go along with it. Infusing new islet cells into a type 2 diabetic could possibly help, to a degree.

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