Diabetes research is ongoing, and there are some amazing developments in the diagnosis and management of diabetes that are coming your way. Here are 10 diabetes breakthroughs that you should know about!
1. Artificial pancreas
One of the most exciting developments in diabetes research is the artificial or “bionic” pancreas, which can automatically make decisions about insulin and glucagon dosing. Developed by researchers at Boston University in Massachusetts, the bionic pancreas bridges the gap between two pieces of diabetes technology that already exist: the insulin pump and the continuous glucose monitor.
With an artificial pancreas, a computer program – instead of the person with diabetes – calculates how much insulin the pump delivers based on readings from the continuous glucose monitor. This “closed-loop system” requires little to no input from the user.
The artificial pancreas acts automatically to keep blood glucose levels within a target range; however, a person using the device has the option to make dose adjustments in certain situations.
2. Preventive vaccine
The first-ever clinical study of a type 1 diabetes prevention vaccine is about to start in Finland. The vaccine targets a virus that is linked to the development of an autoimmune reaction in the pancreas. While it’s not a cure for the disease, if successful, it may prevent thousands of cases of type 1 diabetes each year.
3. Hidden beta cells
Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body’s immune system destroys the beta cells in the pancreas that make insulin. Researchers at the University of California have found another type of “immature” (not fully developed) beta cell – also located within the pancreas – that might be used to help restore the function of the pancreas. Research is ongoing, but they are optimistic that their results may ultimately lead to a treatment for type 1 diabetes.
4. New pancreatic tissue
Stanford University in California and the University of Tokyo in Japan successfully reversed type 1 diabetes in mice, by giving them a transplant of pancreatic tissue. The tissue was grown using stem cells from non-diabetic mice. The transplant only required as few as 100 islet cells, and the rat-grown pancreatic tissue worked at balancing blood sugar levels for more than a year after the transplant. The researchers are confident that this same process can work in humans, but much more research is needed to determine this.
5. Flash glucose monitoring
A new method of blood sugar monitoring – called flash glucose monitoring – was recently introduced in Canada. With this method of monitoring, people with diabetes have a sensor inserted in their upper arm, and a separate touchscreen reader device. When the reader device is swiped close to the sensor, the sensor transmits the current glucose level, an eight-hour trend graph, and a trend arrow to the reader. This method of blood glucose monitoring eliminates the need for routine finger sticks, however, they would still be recommended at times of hypoglycemia (low blood glucose) or rapidly changing glucose levels.
6. Islet cell transplantation
Islet cell transplantation is the transplant of isolated islet cells from a donor pancreas into a person with type 1 diabetes. Once transplanted, the islets begin to produce insulin, regulating blood sugar levels. The first islet cell transplantation was done in Edmonton, at the University of Alberta. Since then, the transplantation process – which has become known as the “Edmonton Protocol” – has been done in many centres around the world. While patients who undergo the process aren’t actually cured, they remain “insulin-independent” (i.e. they don’t need to administer insulin) for up to five years. Click here for more information about islet cell transplantation.
7. The five types of diabetes
A group of researchers in Sweden and Finland recently conducted a study that suggested there are five types of diabetes instead of only two (type 1 and type 2). The five new proposed types of diabetes are:
- Severe autoimmune diabetes. This form is similar to type 1 diabetes.
- Severe insulin-deficient diabetes. This is similar to “severe autoimmune diabetes;” however, in this category of people, the immune system is not the cause of their diabetes.
- Severe insulin-resistant diabetes. This type of diabetes occurs in people who are overweight and have high insulin resistance.
- Mild obesity-related diabetes. This form of diabetes occurs in people who have a milder form of the disease.
- Mild age-related diabetes. This form of diabetes is similar to “mild obesity-related diabetes,” and is the most common form of diabetes.
Learn more about the five types of diabetes here.
Broccoli contains a compound called sulforaphane. Researchers at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden gave 97 people with type 2 diabetes a concentrated dose of sulforaphane extracted from broccoli every day for three months, or a placebo. In those who received the broccoli extract, their blood sugar levels were reduced by 10% more than those who took the placebo. More research, and larger studies, are needed, but the results are encouraging. Interested in more health benefits of broccoli? Find out here.
9. Diabetes medications that reduce the risk of heart disease
Diabetes and heart disease go hand in hand: the risk of heart disease is higher in people who have diabetes than those who don’t. Evidence from clinical trials now shows that some of the newer diabetes drugs reduce the risk of heart disease in people with diabetes:
- Empagliflozin (Jardiance® ) and canagliflozin (Invokana®) are drugs in a class of medications called sodium-glucose co-transporter-2 (SGLT-2) inhibitors. They have both been proven to reduce the risk of heart attack, heart failure and stroke in people with diabetes.
- Liraglutide (Victoza®) and semaglutide (Ozempic®) are drugs in a class of medications called glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) receptor agonists. They have both been proven to reduce the risk of heart attack and heart failure in people with diabetes.
For more information about these medications and how they were studied, click here.
10. Smart pens for insulin injections
A number of diabetes device companies are developing “smart pen” systems for insulin injections, which will offer users a single platform for adjusting insulin. The system includes a pen that integrates with an app to dose and track basal, bolus and basal/bolus insulins. The system will take readings from either a blood glucose meter or a continuous glucose monitoring system, and then recommend insulin dosing changes based on the patterns that are detected.