To delve deeper: for some still unknown reason my immune system launched an attack on me that destroyed the insulin-producing beta cells inside my pancreas.
Always been common knowledge.
But what if, since my diagnosis at the age of 5, those tiny little beta cells have been trying to repair themselves? What if that long-wanted cure we've been hoping for as long as we can remember is in that little turnover fact? They didn't just stop working for the sake of sitting around to do nothing, but they've been trying to get going again.
That kind of throws a lifetime of knowledge out the window.
We may be getting close to finding out if that's the case. Thanks to the Joslin Diabetes Center, and one of the longtime Type 1 "survivors" who made a comment to her doctor once about believing her body still making insulin. I've joked about that, and even made that same kind of comment to my Endos through the years.
Well, this woman's comment about still being able to produce insulin at times led to a study of some Type 1s who've received the "Joslin 50-year Award." This woman is a medalist from Virginia who was diagnosed at age 9 in 1945, achieving that five-decade award that my own mom has achieved (diagnosed at age 5 in 1958).
Results of the study were released online Aug. 10 in advance of publication in an upcoming print issue of the journal Diabetes. The paper is called: "Residual Insulin Production and Pancreatic Beta Cell Turnover After 50 Years of Diabetes: Joslin Medalist Study." You can check out more info online here from the Joslin Diabetes Center, affiliated with the Harvard Medical School.
"In our study, we made the unexpected finding that about two-thirds of the medalists still retained the ability to have positive C-peptide results, which is an indication that they could still be making insulin," said the study's senior author, Dr. George L. King, chief scientific officer at the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston. "It was a surprise because they've had diabetes for so long."
The current study included 411 living diabetes medalists, and a post-mortem pancreas analysis from another nine medalists. The average age of the medalists was 67, and they'd had diabetes an average of 56 years, according to the study. Half of the study participants were male, and the average body mass index (BMI) was 26, which is considered slightly overweight.
Researchers found that 67.4 percent of the medalists had minimal or sustained C-peptide levels, suggesting that they were still producing some insulin. Some of the study participants also had their C-peptide levels measured before and after a meal. The researchers also measured C-peptide levels before and after a meal in age-matched non-diabetic people. They found that C-peptide levels increased about fivefold in those without diabetes. In people with type 1 diabetes, the C-peptide levels in those whose bodies responded to the meal rose about threefold.
"This study shows that in this unique cohort of people surviving 50 years or more that some still have a nice balance of beta cells; it's not just a progressive death," said Dr. Joel Zonszein, director of the Clinical Diabetes Center at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City.
But Zonszein added this may not apply to everyone with type 1 diabetes.
"Some people have a very rapid decay in beta cell function, but many continue to make insulin and their beta cells try to survive. The take-home message is that not all patients with type 1 have no insulin of their own, although they still need [outside] insulin to survive," he said.
So, that's a portion of what the study says. Which is just fascinating and goes against some of the basics we've heard since the beginning. But it makes sense. Think about it: how many times have we thought, maybe just with a laugh, that our pancreases were actually working? When we are Low and just can't get them up immediately despite all the sugar or carbs we consume? Or that we eat a mass amount and yet don't see the usual corresponding spike in BGs? It happens. Maybe not often, but it does. Maybe, the reason is because our beta cells have turned over a bit and produced a little insulin.
Yes, Beta Cell Regeneration isn't new and that research has been developing for years now, but this presents a whole new aspect to ow that can be done and used. Maybe this is the path to a cure, or at least a piece of that puzzle that will eventually lead to a cure.
What if the answer has been inside us the whole time? What if we've been actually trying "cure" ourselves but just haven't been able to? Not yet, at least. But someday.