Scientists claim that the drop in insulin production falls over seven years then stabilises
Researchers found evidence that the amount produced declines by almost 50 percent each year for seven years.
Only at that point do insulin levels stabilise.
The finding by a team at the University of Exeter Medical School is a major step forward in understanding Type 1 and contradicts previous beliefs that the insulin produced by sufferers relentlessly with time.
It offers hope that new strategies could be developed to preserve insulin secreting cells in patients.
Dr Beverley Shields, who led the research, said: “This finding is really exciting. It suggests that a person with Type 1 will keep any working beta-cells they still have seven years after diagnosis.
“We are not sure why this is; it may well be that there is a small group of resilient beta-cells resistant to immune attack and these are left after all the susceptible beta-cells are destroyed. Understanding what is special about these resilient beta-cells may open new pathways to treatment.”
Type 1 affects around 400,000 people in the UK.
The disease commonly starts in childhood but can develop at any age and causes the body’s own immune system to attack and destroy insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, leaving the patient dependent on life-long injections.
The breakthrough study, published in Diabetes Care, measured C-peptide, which is produced at the same time and in the same quantities as the insulin that regulates blood sugar.
By measuring C-peptide levels in blood or in urine scientists can tell how much insulin a person is producing even if they are taking insulin injections as treatment.
Researchers studied 1,549 people with Type 1 from Exeter and Tayside, Scotland.
Professor Andrew Hattersley, a Consultant in Diabetes at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital and Research Professor at the University of Exeter Medical School, said: “Now we know there is a seven year switch the next question is why?
“Has the immune attack stopped or are we left with super beta-cells that can resist the immune onslaught.
“Any insights into halting the relentless destruction of the precious insulin-producing cells are valuable. We could not have made this progress without the help of over 1,500 patients. We owe it to them to try to find answers that might help patient care quickly.”
Karen Addington, the chief executive of the Type 1 diabetes charity JDRF, said: “These results provide further evidence the immune system’s assault on insulin-producing beta cells is not as complete as we once believed and may change over time.
“This further opens the door to identifying ways to preserve insulin production in people diagnosed with or living with Type 1.”
The study was supported by JDRF , the Wellcome Trust and the National Institute of Health Research.