Posted January 10, 2007on:
In a discovery that has stunned even those behind it, scientists at a Toronto hospital say they have proof the body’s nervous system helps trigger diabetes, opening the door to a potential near-cure of the disease that affects millions.
Diabetic mice became healthy virtually overnight after researchers injected a substance to counteract the effect of malfunctioning pain neurons in the pancreas.
“I couldn’t believe it,” said Dr. Michael Salter, a pain expert at the Hospital for Sick Children and one of the scientists. “Mice with diabetes suddenly didn’t have diabetes any more.”
The researchers caution they have yet to confirm their findings in people, but say they expect results from human studies within a year or so. Any treatment that may emerge to help at least some patients would likely be years away from hitting the market.
But the excitement of the team from Sick Kids, whose work is being published today in the journal Cell, is almost palpable.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Dr. Hans Michael Dosch, an immunologist at the hospital and a leader of the studies. “In my career, this is unique.”
Their conclusions upset conventional wisdom that Type 1 diabetes, the most serious form of the illness that typically first appears in childhood, was solely caused by auto-immune responses — the body’s immune system turning on itself.
They also conclude that there are far more similarities than previously thought between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, and that nerves likely play a role in other chronic inflammatory conditions, such as asthma and Crohn’s disease.
The “paradigm-changing” study opens “a novel, exciting door to address one of the diseases with large societal impact,” said Dr. Christian Stohler, a leading U.S. pain specialist and dean of dentistry at the University of Maryland, who has reviewed the work.
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