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HEALTH REPORT - June 26, 2002: Diabetes Research Update - 2002-06-25

This is the VOA Special English Health Report.

American medical researchers say that a new drug has been shown to stop the progress of one form of the disease diabetes. Some researchers say the results of this latest study provide hope for finding a cure for the disease.

More than one-hundred-thirty-million people around the world have diabetes. They have high levels of the sugar called glucose in their blood. Glucose levels increase when the body lacks or cannot use the hormone insulin.

The pancreas is the organ of the body that produces insulin. Insulin helps glucose enter cells all over the body so that it can be used as fuel. Without insulin, glucose levels increase. This results in diabetes. The disease damages blood vessels. Diabetes also injures the kidneys, eyes and nerves. It stops blood flow to the feet and legs. And it increases the chance of heart disease and strokes.

There are two kinds of diabetes. Type two or adult onset diabetes usually develops after the age of thirty. The body is not able to use the insulin that is produced.

The other kind of diabetes is called type one, or juvenile diabetes. It usually develops in children or young adults. It results when the body’s defense system mistakenly attacks and destroys cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. This is the kind of diabetes that researchers hope the new drug can control.

Researchers at Columbia University in New York City and the University of California at San Francisco reported their work in the New England Journal of Medicine. They experimented with a drug that suppresses the body’s defense system. The drug stops white blood cells from attacking the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin.

The study involved twenty-four young people with type one diabetes. Twelve people received the drug directly into their blood vessels every day for two weeks. The other twelve were not treated. After a year, nine people who were given the drug had little if any loss in their ability to produce insulin. Ten of the twelve people who were not treated lost a great deal of the ability to produce insulin.

The researchers said the drug could give people better control over type one diabetes. However, the study was very small. Scientists say more research is needed. They are planning a two-year study that involves eighty patients.

This VOA Special English Health Report was written by Nancy Steinbach.