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Health Beat: 'Weighing in' on a diabetes discovery

By Melanie Falcon, Anchor / Reporter, @Melanie_Falcon, MFalcon@wfmz.com
Published On: Apr 01 2013 02:13:30 PM CDT
Updated On: Apr 01 2013 04:45:44 PM CDT

Nearly three million Americans have type-one diabetes. There's no cure, and the cause is unknown, but a new discovery could mean relief is in sight.

Nearly three million Americans have type-one diabetes. There's no cure, and the cause is unknown, but a new discovery could mean relief is in sight.

Scientists already know that people with type-one diabetes have smaller pancreases, but a new discovery could carry a lot of weight when it comes to beating the disease.

“It was a surprise that I had diabetes,” said Jordan Perkins, who was only 8-years-old when she found out.

To manage her type-one diabetes, she has to prick her fingers and do shots every day.

Jordan’s pancreas stopped making insulin when her immune system started attacking insulin-producing beta cells.  Now, we could be closer to finding out why that happens.

"It is a first of its kind," said Dr. Martha Campbell-Thompson, professor of pathology at the University of Florida.

In a lab, her team is weighing pancreases from 164 deceased donors.

The pathologist found pancreases at high risk for developing type-one diabetes, weighed 25 percent less than normal ones. 

“This implies that even before one becomes diabetic, you may have fewer insulin producing beta cells. Could be happening many years before signs of diabetes occur, " said Campbell-Thompson.

She wants to work with ongoing diabetes studies to determine if people with varying degrees of diabetes risk also have smaller pancreases. 

“Measure their pancreas volume using something like a simple and safe as ultrasound," said Campbell-Thompson.

Finding patterns in pancreas weight could help predict risk, treat the disease, and maybe even prevent kids like Jordan from ever having to deal with diabetes.

Campbell-Thompson believes it will be relatively easy to add an ultrasound or MRI test to current diabetes studies to measure pancreas size. 

In the meantime, a pilot study to further examine the findings is in the works at the University of Florida. Campbell-Thompson hopes it will eventually expand to sites across the country.

DOWNLOAD and VIEW research summary

DOWNLOAD and VIEW the full-length interview with Dr. Martha Campbell-Thompson about researching the cause of diabetes