Joslin Diabetes Center Studies 50-Year-Medalists to Give Clues to Cures

In type 1 diabetes, the body relentlessly attacks and destroys its own
insulin-producing pancreatic beta cells. But a study by Joslin Diabetes Center
scientists now has firmly established that some of these cells endure for many
decades in a small group of people with the disease — offering clues to
potential treatments for preserving and even restoring the crucial cell
population, according to a press release.

Joslin has been awarding 50-Year Medals to people with insulin-dependent
diabetes since 1972. The finding comes from the Joslin 50-Year Medalist Study,
which examines this select cohort to discover protective factors for their
long-term survival.

Published on Diabetes this week, the research analyzed
pancreatic function in 411 Medalists and examined nine pancreases from Medalist
organ donors.


Blood samples showed that many in this group exhibit C-peptide molecules
(a marker of insulin production), blood glucose levels that rise less after a
meal than would be expected in the absence of insulin, and signs of autoimmune

Moreover, all of the donated pancreases displayed active
insulin-producing beta cells, with some of the cells scattered individually and
others clumped with different kinds of hormone-producing cells in the normal
pancreatic structures called islets. Most strikingly, some of the beta cells
showed signs of cell proliferation, cell death and autoimmune attack.

“We’ve clearly demonstrated that functional beta cells are
still in the pancreas,” Hillary Keenan, PhD, Joslin research associate and
first author on the paper, stated in the release.

“The evidence that these insulin-producing cells are both growing
and dying is very important from a treatment point of view,” George King,
MD, senior author on the paper and head of the Dianne Nunnally Hoppes
Laboratory for Diabetes Complications, stated. “If we could increase the
rate of growth and decrease the rate of death, we potentially could build up
more insulin-producing cells and lead to a treatment or a cure.”

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