Young people with Type 1 diabetes in the North East have shown their support for new diabetes findings.
A team of researchers from the University of Exeter Medical School, the University of Oslo and the network of Pancreatic Organ Donors (nPOD) found the progression of the disease is radically different in those diagnosed as teenagers or beyond.
The team also found that children who are diagnosed with diabetes before the age of seven develop a more aggressive form of the disease than that seen in teenagers.
They retain unexpectedly large numbers of beta cells at diagnosis – although they are no longer working as they should.
The team analysed the largest collection of bio-banked pancreas samples from people with Type 1 diabetes from the UK, America and Europe to confirm their results.
Professor Noel Morgan said: “This is incredibly exciting and could open the doors to new treatments for young people who develop diabetes.
“It was previously thought that teenagers with Type 1 diabetes had lost around 90 per cent of their beta cells but, by looking in their pancreas, we have discovered that this is not true.
“In fact, those diagnosed in their teens still have many beta cells left – this suggests that the cells are dormant, but not dead.
“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.”
In the UK alone, around 30,000 young people have Type 1 diabetes, and diagnoses among the younger age group are escalating fast.
Sophie Hopkins, 21, from Gateshead, said: “Type 1 diabetes is hard work at age of 21. Having to take insulin 3 times a day, watch my blood sugars, eat at certain times and explain to my friends what I am doing and why.
“Professor Noel Morgan’s new research has brought hope to many young people.
“Young people don’t like to be different, limited to what they can do and, especially, when there parents won’t let them go to sleep-overs because of there insulin intake. This can give us a new lease of life.
“If our beta cells are just dormant then it’s reversible, which means it may give us a few more years before we need insulin or reduce it or even better, eventually reverse the condition.
“It also can lead to other potential treatment and find answers, everyone’s answers for the difference in adult and young person’s pancreatic reactions.
“Diabetes isn’t thought to be in young people, even though it effects thousands and trials tend to be more adult focused and even still they don’t look at the difference the cells react.”
Dr Sarah Robinson, co-author of the research, said: “For trials to be effective, we have to understand the underlying causes of the disease.
“Until now, most research into the onset of Type 1 diabetes has been carried out in animal models. While that’s extremely valuable, there are clear differences in human pathology.
“We’re working with partners across the world to make major advances in this research area. Our next step is to investigate why diabetes progresses differently in younger and older children, with a view to understanding how we could treat both groups more effectively.”
Miss Hopkins, who has Type 1 diabetes, added: “Dr Sarah Robinson is going to be answering a lot of questions I have had and my parents have had for many years.
“Diabetes type 1 leads to many other issues including feet [issues] and [issues with] emotional well being which is why to me [and other] young people need more research and more time looked into their bodies.
“I also feel grateful someone is doing the work as I grew up very stressed and worried over learning my medication and diet and being singled because I can’t do certain activities. Let’s hope in 20 to 30 years it can be reversible and teens are given a new lease of life. Being diabetic and reading this gives me hope for the future.”
Bradley Bulch, 22, from Newcastle Upon Tyne, has provided samples and has completed work for diabetes research as a test subject.
He said: “Progress like this is extremely encouraging for those like myself living with Type 1 diabetes.
“The work of researchers such as those at the University at Exeter gives us all hope that a cure will be found within our lifetime.
“I’ve been saying for a while I think the cure is coming within say 15 years.
“News of this sort appears every now and then and makes us all extremely optimistic, even though a cure hasn’t been found as of yet, we are not discouraged as it displays the amount of progress being made in this area.”
Niall Watson, 15, from Gateshead, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 12. His mum, Michelle McCabe gave permission for this quote.
Mr Watson, said: “The research seems very interesting and it could lead to some great developments in treatment. [The] best case scenario [will be that] some people can have the effects completely reversed and have to spend less time on basic survival.
“And, it seems like it could impact me if its true that it goes for people diagnosed in their teens.”
Ms McCabe, Niall’s mum, also from Gateshead, added: “If this is right, it could explain how Niall’s honeymoon period, when a child is still producing insulin, lasted longer than his diabetes team expected it to.
“There seems to be so many advances in diabetes treatment at the moment that the future looks really bright for children diagnosed with type 1, compared to when I was [diagnosed with diabetes] 39 years ago!”
Most trials have focused mainly on halting the immune attack in older patients, where the team finds that insulitis may be less severe.
Insulitis kills off nearly all the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas of the young children.
In future, it will be important to assess whether younger children might benefit most from such approaches, as they have the more aggressive disease, it is reported.
The study, funded by the European Union and the type 1 diabetes charity JDRF, is published online in the journal, Diabetes.