Type 1 diabetes is managed through the treatment of symptoms. Take a look at this quick overview to learn about whether or not a type 1 diabetes cure is possible.
As of 2019, 1.6 million Americans were living with type 1 diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes in particular has proved to be a puzzle for medical exerts. Though its symptoms appear similar to the more common type 2 diabetes, the two diseases are very different. It almost always manifests in adolescence, but researchers have yet to isolate a definitive cause.
Though what you may hear rumblings about from time to time is a prospective type 1 diabetes cure.
But is it really possible? To find out, let’s take a closer look at what makes this illness unique. And in doing so, examine why those unique qualities may be cause for hope.
How Type 1 Diabetes is Distinct From Type 2
The warning signs of type 1 and type 2 diabetes are both similar. Individuals are at greater risk of infections, experience frequent urination, and increased thirst and appetite, among others.
Sexual dysfunction is one of the classic signs of diabetes in men. The cause is the damage that long-term high blood sugar can do to blood vessels.
Signs of diabetes in women may include new or worsening emotional health problems. Research shows a link between depression and diabetes in women.
These warning signs are more or less equally present in cases of type 1 and type 2 diabetes. But their root causes could hardly be more different.
Type 2 diabetes is usually considered an acquired illness. Obesity and lack of exercise cause long-term high blood sugar. This forces the body to produce more insulin to manage it.
Over time, the body loses sensitivity to insulin. So the treatment is to try to encourage lifestyle changes to reduce insulin insensitivity. Doctors may also prescribe medications like Ozempic to help manage the condition.
Type 1 diabetes, however, is thought to be an autoimmune disease. For reasons that are not clear, the body attacks its own pancreatic cells. Over time, this causes the loss of the ability to produce insulin altogether. Treatment usually requires administering artificial insulin.
Is There a Type 1 Diabetes Cure?
The short answer is there is no cure for type 1 diabetes — yet. However, we may be very close to a functional cure.
Because type 1 diabetes is caused by the failure of the pancreas to produce insulin, researchers are hopeful that a biological cure is possible.
A biological cure would mean treatment that would help the body produce insulin on its own again. If successful, these treatments would restore blood sugar to normal levels without complications or the need for supplementary medication like artificial insulin.
Research has centered on what’s called islet transplantation. Islets are the clusters of cells in the pancreas responsible for producing insulin. When they fail, you see the symptoms we associate with diabetes.
Islet transplantation would entail taking healthy islets from an organ donor and injecting them into a diabetes patient. Early results have been positive. Several studies have produced individuals who either reduced their reliance on insulin injections or were able to stop taking it altogether.
Following along the same lines, emerging research shows that stem cell therapy may also have the potential to produce a functional cure. Last year, researchers claimed to have functionally cured a patient by “coaching” stem cells into becoming healthy, insulin-producing cells.
Diabetes Is a Manageable Condition
As of this writing, there is no type 1 diabetes cure. But as our understanding of the disease advances, we inch ever closer to a functional solution.
In the meantime, living a healthy, fulfilling life with diabetes hinges on learning to manage symptoms. To see what this looks like in practice, check out these three steps to treating diabetes symptoms.