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Under the Magnifying Glass: Glucagon’s Role in Type 1 Diabetes

February 25, 2011

A new study by the University of Texas Southwestern (UTSW) Medical Center in Dallas suggests that an excess of glucagon, rather than a shortage of insulin, is the main culprit in diabetes. Glucagon is a pancreatic hormone that raises low blood sugar in healthy individuals, but whose excess in those with type 1 diabetes may trigger hyperglycemia. Published in this month’s issue of Diabetes journal, the research from UTSW implies that glucagon suppression may be a better way to treat the disease than insulin, or an additional way.

While results from this pre-clinical animal study are new and interesting, the concept of focusing on glucagon to understand diabetes is not a novel approach. Pre-clinical research in animal models thus far – including UTSW researcher Dr. Roger Unger’s most recent study – has confirmed the unique role of glucagon as a potential avenue to treat diabetes. But it still needs to be proven in people. Researchers from academia and industry alike have been working for more than a decade to translate glucagon treatments from mice into possible therapies for humans with type 1 diabetes. The hurdles in this approach are manifold, and overcoming them will require a much greater deal of research and time.

JDRF is pursuing different avenues toward addressing this problem, including research to test leptin – a hormone that regulates metabolism and acts as glucagon suppressor – along with insulin therapy as a possible treatment for people with type 1 diabetes. The JDRF-Amylin-funded study investigating leptin’s perceived ability to improve blood glucose control and examining whether insulin treatments can safely be reduced as a result, is also being conducted by Dr. Unger’s team at UTSW.

In December, Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert Discussed Diabetes Study Being Conducted at UT-Southwestern Medical Center.

Last month, Dr. Gregory Clark Discussed the On-going Leptin Study at JDRF Research Update Meeting.
UTSW’s study further demonstrates the significance of glucagon in diabetes, and validates the paths we are taking to better understand its role in this disease.

This article was originally published by Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International on the Juvenation News Blog.

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To learn more about the JDRF Dallas chapter, visit our JDRF Dallas website!

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