Sam Boyer

Sam Boyer is a police reporter for the NZ Herald.

Breakthrough offers hope for diabetics

Kiwi scientists think they have uncovered the secret of disease that affects millions.

Auckland artist and columnist Pebbles Hooper said even the possibility of a cure was amazing.
Auckland artist and columnist Pebbles Hooper said even the possibility of a cure was amazing.

A cure for diabetes is a step closer after scientists found what they believe is the root cause of the disease.

A 20-year New Zealand study has found both type-1 and type-2 diabetes are likely caused by the formation of toxic clumps of a hormone called amylin.

Professor Garth Cooper is working with colleagues from the University of Auckland's School of Biological Sciences and researchers at the University of Manchester.

The findings give scientists hope for developing medicines that will stop amylin forming the toxic clumps - to slow down or, ultimately, cure both types of the disease.

"We are confident this discovery can be used to make new classes of anti-diabetic medicines and hope to have potential medicines ready for entry into clinical trials within the next two years," Professor Cooper said.

It is anticipated that the new medicines will be tested in both type-1 and type-2 diabetic patients.

As explained in a release from the University of Manchester, cells in the pancreas produce insulin and amylin.

"Insulin and amylin normally work together to regulate the body's response to food intake.

"However, some of the amylin that is produced can get deposited around cells in the pancreas as toxic clumps, which then, in turn, destroy those cells that produce insulin and amylin. The consequence of this cell death is diabetes."

The UN estimates that nearly 350 million people have diabetes. The Ministry of Health puts the number in this country at around 245,000.

Diabetes New Zealand has said that every day, another 50 people are diagnosed with the disease.

Auckland artist and columnist Pebbles Hooper said even the possibility of a cure was amazing. The 24-year-old was diagnosed with type-1 diabetes when she was 19.

She said the micro-management of her autoimmune disease was taxing, and anything to lessen that burden would be welcome.

She has to inject herself with insulin three to five times a day. And because insulin is a hormone, it messes with other aspects of her life, such as her moods and sleeping patterns.

"It really dictates your whole life. It's one of those things you don't understand what it's like until you've got it. So even if [a potential new drug] was a medication you still have to take, if it stops that micro-management, then that's amazing."

It is estimated that diabetes care in New Zealand is likely to cost $1 billion a year by 2020.

The study was published last week in the Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, a leading international biology journal.

Diabetes research

What has the research discovered?
The findings suggest that both major forms of diabetes, type-1 and type-2, are the result of the same mechanism - both types are caused by the formation of toxic clumps of a hormone called amylin.

What is amylin and how does it cause diabetes?
Like insulin, amylin is produced by the pancreas. Insulin and amylin normally work together to regulate the body's response to food intake. But some of the amylin can get deposited around cells in the pancreas as toxic clumps, which in turn destroy those cells that produce insulin and amylin. The consequence of this cell death is diabetes.

- NZ Herald

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