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Canadian scientists add an important piece to the intricate puzzle of Type-1 Diabetes.

Discovery proves repair process present within the pancreas during disease development - understanding how to control the process could be key to treatment.

APRIL 19 - For some time, scientists have known that a regenerative or repair process -- involving the development of specialized structures called tubular complexes -- is switched on during physical and chemical trauma to the pancreas (the gland that manufactures and secretes crucial insulin in the body). People therefore thought these structures were formed only in response to these types of injuries. In patients with type 1 diabetes, the pancreas is already damaged. The cells that produce insulin in the pancreas are destroyed by the person's own immune system, requiring them to take daily insulin injections to survive.

Thanks to research spearheaded by the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute (OHRI), we now know that this same repair process is actually present and is increased in the pancreas of adult diabetes-prone rats - whose diabetes closely resembles that of humans. This is the first indication that this repair or regenerative process is attempting to reverse the damage - counteracting the loss of insulin-producing cells during the natural course of disease development. With this new information, scientists can now attempt to manipulate and further control the process, and hopefully, some day treat this incurable condition. The findings are being published in the May edition of Laboratory Investigation, a journal of the Nature Publishing Group.

"The key message here is that there is a repair process that is present in the pancreas of individuals during the destructive phase and this process is increased in an attempt to maintain insulin-producing cells," noted Dr. Fraser Scott, a senior scientist at the OHRI and a professor at the University of Ottawa, who led the study. "It was not known to be present before. This is new and important information in the fight against type 1 diabetes."

Diabetes is increasing in many developed countries. For example, the incidence of type 1 diabetes in the Avalon Peninsula of Newfoundland ranks among the highest in the world. Over 2 million Canadians have diabetes and approximately 10 per cent of people with diabetes have type 1 diabetes, the most severe form. According to the Canadian Diabetes Association, the personal costs of diabetes may include a reduced quality of life and the increased likelihood of complications such as heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, blindness, amputation and erectile dysfunction.

"These findings support the notion that patients with type 1 diabetes may also possess their own ability to renew insulin producing cells in the pancreas," said Dr. Gen-Sheng Wang, a research associate at the OHRI and lead author of the study, adding: "Further investigation is required to increase this compensatory process in order to restore insulin in people with type 1 diabetes." This study was performed in collaboration with Dr. Lawrence Rosenberg, Professor of Surgery at McGill University.

The research was funded in part by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, the Canadian Foundation for Innovation and the Ontario Research and Development Challenge Fund.

The OHRI is the research arm of the Ottawa Hospital and a major partner of the Faculties of Medicine and Health Sciences at the University of Ottawa.

Media contact:

Nathalie Trépanier
Communications Manager
613-798-5555 ext. 19691

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