BOSTON — It seems insulin production and beta cell functioning may persist despite the onset of Type 1 diabetes, according to research conducted at the Massachusetts General Hospital and published in the March issue of Diabetes Care.
Researchers evaluated blood samples of 182 individuals with Type 1 diabetes using an ultrasensitive assay for C-peptide, a marker of insulin secretion, to test for residual beta cell function. What they discovered was that although C-peptide levels were lower among those who had longer duration of diabetes; however, the decrease over time was gradual, compared with the predicted abrupt decline that typically is associated with Type 1 diabetes. For example, among patients with disease duration of 31 to 40 years, 10% still produced C-peptide. What's more, beta cell functioning remained intact at very low C-peptide levels.
"Traditionally, it was thought that beta cell function completely ceased in patients with advanced Type 1 diabetes. However, data from this study and others suggest that the pancreas continues to function at some level even decades after the onset of Type 1 diabetes," said Denise Faustman, director of the MGH Immunobiology Laboratory, who led the study.