Discovery of Sensory Nerves in Diabetes Gives Hope on New Ways of Treating the Disease

Recent studies have found that abnormalities in pain-related nerve endings, also known as the sensory nociceptors, have an influence on the progression of diabetes. Scientists from several institutions (University of Calgary, The Hospital for Sick Children, and The Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine) have all pointed out in their studies the link between the sensory nociceptors located in the insulin-producing pancreatic islet cells and severity of diabetes among patients. This medical breakthrough has indeed shed new light in the way people with diabetes are being treated. With this, the reversal of diabetes can be achieved without the patient having to suffer toxic immunosuppression, a condition wherein the efficacy of the immune system to protect the body from harmful substances is reduced. nd being “attacked” by several T-cells, are tampered with and destroyed along with the source of the body’s insulin. Apparently, it has been found that this assault on the beta cells is caused by an aberration in the sensory nerves, which lack substance P, a tiny protein-like molecule through which neurons are able to “communicate” with one another.

According to the findings on a study published in an issue of the journal Cell, sensory neurons among diabetic mice were not able to produce enough of this neuropeptide; however, upon being injected by substance P into the mice’s pancreas directly, the blood sugar level and the amount of insulin found in these animals’ bodies shot up and became normal again. After the experiment, the diabetic mice appeared to have been cured of the disease. This kind of discovery has led many doctors and diabetes experts to look at the treatment of diabetes in a new light. If the theory is correct, patients would no longer need to undergo several medications or frequently visit the hospital just to treat their disease. Moreover, if the insulin levels among type 1 diabetes patients will be restored to normal, diabetics would no longer have to worry about the serious consequences of insulin deficiency such as blindness, limb amputation, kidney failure, high blood pressure, heart attack and even death.

The researchers had the brilliant idea of looking at the nervous system that might play a role in the onset and spread of type 1 diabetes. The immunosuppression in the islets in the pancreas was the key in unearthing this major discovery on diabetes. With a deficit or the insufficient production of the neuropeptide substance P, which is essential in maintaining the normal islet function, the islets are continually exposed to stress, resulting in inflammation. By addressing this problem at the cell level, doctors will be able to administer a much more effective treatment for diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes patients are not the only ones who can benefit from this breakthrough. The condition of type 2 diabetics is now being studied by using the information gathered from this experiment. The link between the islet-inflammation and diabetes are also explored in order to normalize insulin resistance among type 2 patients.

References: Razavi R, Chan Y, Afifiyan FN, et al.: TRPV1+ sensory neurons control beta cell stress and islet inflammation in autoimmune diabetes. Cell 127:1123–1135, 2006.

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