Doctors close to finding cure for diabetes

While 23 million people in the US have diabetes, researchers say there are nearly 60 million who have pre-diabetes. That means they are likely to develop the disease within the next couple of years.

For the first time, scientists believe they're nearing a cure for this common disease.

Pricks, shots, and pumps are part of the daily routine for 23 million Americans, including Earl Rutledge. His diabetes led to a foot ulcer and almost an amputation.

Rutledge said, "When I started walking, I started dragging my foot, just to compensate for the pain and stuff."

Now, for the first time, researchers are using diabetes and "cure" in the same sentence.

Dr. Donald Jump at Oregon State University eliminated diet-induced diabetes, or type two diabetes, in lab mice. He said, "We saw that certain enzymes were being repressed by the high-fat diet."

The enzyme he's talking about is called fatty acid elongase-five; the more fat we eat, the less of the enzyme we produce. So, when researchers boosted the production of the enzyme in mice livers, they were cured of their diabetes in five days.

Dr. Jump said, "The animals' hyperglycemia disappeared, and their fatty liver disappeared, and their insulin resistance disappeared. We were very dazzled by this outcome."

This lab's focus now turns to what's called mechanism: why did this work?

Rutledge said, "Three months ago, I didn't think I could do this.”

Earl's out walking again thanks to standard therapy, but he still fights the diabetes battle daily. Now, science is one step closer to a cure for a disease that impacts nearly one in ten Americans.

This enzyme, which one day would be incorporated into a new drug strategy, also pushed blood sugar levels to normal values and reduced triglycerides in the liver.

That means protecting patients from fibrosis, cirrhosis and other liver diseases.


BACKGROUND: According to the American Diabetes Association, in 2007 alone, there were 23.6 million Americans, adults and children alike who suffered from diabetes. There are about 186,300 people under the age of 20 who suffer from diabetes each year. The ADA also explains diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States. In 2005 alone, diabetes contributed to 233,619 deaths.

SYMPTOMS: According to WebMd, some common symptoms of diabetes include:

1. Excessive thirst and appetite

2. Fatigue

3. Nausea

4. Blurred vision

5. Frequent vaginal infections (for women)

6. Increased urination

7. Slow healing sores or cuts

8. Itchy skin

CAUSES: What causes such a popular disease? Type 1 diabetes is said to be an immune system disease. According to, with type 1 diabetes, the body's immune system attacks the pancreas, which produces insulin for the body. Type 1 diabetes may be genetic. Also, environmental factors may play a role in its development. Additionally, type 1 diabetes is more common in males than in females. Type 2 diabetes, however, is known to have very strong genetic and lifestyle links. High blood pressure, high alcohol intake, obesity, high blood levels, and for women, giving birth to a child over 9 pounds, are all major risk factors when it comes to the development of type 2 diabetes.

THE NEXT BIG THING: Fatty acid elongase-5 is an enzyme that researchers are testing on diabetic animals. When investigators boosted the production of the enzyme in livers of obese, diabetic mice, the symptoms of diabetes were gone within five days. This enzyme, which may one day be incorporated into a new drug strategy, also pushed blood sugar levels to normal values and reduced the triglyceride levels in the liver. While this discovery has gained national attention, scientists say it should not be considered a full-blown "cure" for diabetes, and more research is needed.

For more information, please contact:

Donald B. Jump, Ph.D.
Oregon State University
Corvallis, OR

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