The Viral Connection
Scientists now have evidence that Type I diabetes may be caused by viruses that invade the islets in the pancreas. Then, in some mysterious way, the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the islets.
Dr. H. Peter Chase, of the Barbara Davis Center for Childhood Diabetes in Denver, is studying families who show signs of these anti-islet antibodies. And researchers at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York have found that these antibodies appear several years before the patient develops diabetes. These early warning signs may one day help scientists prevent diabetes by using drugs that suppress the immune system.

A Drug Offers New Hope
One such drug already has “cured” diabetes, in a sense. Dr. Calvin R. Stiller and his colleagues at the University of Western Ontario in Canada treated 30 newly diagnosed Type I diabetics with cyclosporin. This is the drug that prevents organ rejection in heart and kidney transplants. In 16 of the patients, cyclosporin suppressed the body’s destruction of the islet cells. The patients continued to secrete insulin and no longer needed injections.
The researchers believe that if cyclosporin is prescribed soon after diabetes manifests itself -and before all the islets are destroyed – it can arrest the development of diabetes.

Better Control, Tight Control
Thanks to battery-operated blood-reading meters and color-coded testing strips, the diabetic patient today can get an accurate reading of his blood sugar at home within minutes by pricking a drop of blood from a finger. He then can adjust his medication, food intake, and exercise to bring his blood sugar levels back under control.
This new technology comes at a time when doctors are advancing their stand on “tight control.” This means that the diabetic must keep his blood sugar levels as close to normal (between 80 and 120 milligrams) as possible at all times. Doctors believe that tight control can reduce or eliminate the long-term nasty effects of diabetes.

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