Discovery could help predict risk of developing type 1 diabetes

University of Florida professor: "It is a first of its kind"

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Gainesville, Fla. - There's no cure and the cause is unknown. Up to three million Americans have type 1 diabetes.  It's already known that people with it have smaller pancreases, but a new discovery could carry a lot of weight when it comes to beating diabetes.

"I was like so tired and sick," said Jordan Perkins, who has type 1 diabetes.

Perkins was only eight when she found out.

"It was a surprise that I had diabetes," she said.

To manage her diabetes, Perkins explained that she has to do shots and prick her finger five times a day.

Her pancreas stopped making insulin when her immune system started attacking these insulin-producing beta cells. Now, we could be closer to finding out why that happens.

"It is a first of its kind," said Dr. Martha Campbell-Thompson, Professor of Pathology at the University of Florida.

Campbell-Thompson's team weighed pancreases from 164 deceased donors. The pathologist found pancreases at high risk for developing type 1 diabetes, weighed 25 percent less than normal ones.

"This implies that even before one becomes diabetic, you may have fewer insulin producing beta cells. It could be happening many years before signs of diabetes occur," Campbell-Thompson said.

She wants to work with ongoing diabetes studies to determine if people with varying degrees of diabetes risk also have smaller pancreases.

"Measure their pancreas volume using something like as simple and safe as ultrasound," Campbell-Thompson said.

Finding patterns in pancreas weight could help predict risk, treat the disease, and maybe even prevent kids like Jordan from ever having to deal with diabetes.

Thompson believes it will be relatively easy to add an ultrasound or MRI test to current diabetes studies to measure pancreas size. In the meantime, a pilot study at the University of Florida to further examine the findings is in the works. Thompson hopes it will eventually expand to sites across the country.

Additional Information:

BACKGROUND:  Type 1 diabetes, affecting 5% of people with diabetes, is usually diagnosed in young adults and children.  It was previously known as juvenile diabetes.  In type 1 diabetes, the body does not produce enough insulin.  Insulin is a hormone needed to transform starches, sugar, and other food into energy.  In most cases of type 1 diabetes, people need to inherit risk factors from both parents.  However, genes alone are not enough to trigger the disease.  For example, identical twins have identical genes.  One twin can have type 1 diabetes and the other has only a 50% chance of inheriting it also.  Researchers believe that a predisposition to the disease can be inherited then something in that person's environment triggers it.  They think one trigger might be related to cold weather because type 1 diabetes develops more often in winter than summer and is more common in colder climates.  It is less common in people who were breastfed.  (Source:


YOUR CHILD'S RISK:  Generally, if a man has type 1 diabetes, the odds of his child obtaining diabetes is one in 17.  If a woman has type 1 diabetes and their child was born before they were 25, then her child's risk is one in 25; if the child was born after they turned 25, the child's risk is one in 100. If the parent developed diabetes before age 11, then the child's risk doubles.  If both of the child's parents have type 1 diabetes, the risk is between one in 10 and one in four.  However, there is an exception to these numbers.  Close to one in every seven people with type 1 diabetes has a condition called type 2 polyglandular autoimmune syndrome.  These people have thyroid disease, poorly working adrenal glands, and also have type 1 diabetes; some even have immune system disorders.  If a parent has this syndrome, then their child's risk of getting the syndrome on top of type 1 diabetes is one in two.  Researchers are learning how to predict a person's odds of getting diabetes. (Source:


NEW TECHNOLOGY:  Type 1 diabetes happens when the body attacks its own beta cells, which are found in the pancreas.  Beta cells produce insulin.  The study at the University of Florida has linked people with type 1 diabetes to having smaller pancreases.  If there is a smaller pancreas in type 1 diabetes patients, then the number of insulin-producing beta cells is lowered too.  During the study, researchers weighed 164 organ donors' pancreases.  Results showed that people who had been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes or who were at risk for the disease had smaller than average-sized pancreases.  A normal pancreas weighs 80 grams.  A pancreas of people with type 1 diabetes weighed half that size.  People at risk for the disease had a pancreas weight of approximately 60 grams.  Researchers say that beta cells grow in utero and can continue to develop until the child is around five years old.  The study's results stress the need to look earlier in people who are at risk for type 1 diabetes.  So the next step in research is to look at younger people and measure the volume of their pancreases through MRI imaging.  (Source:

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