Is There a Cure for Diabetes?

By Lewis, Sarah, PharmD

What Causes Diabetes?

Scientists don’t know exactly what causes diabetes. They think that type 1 diabetes is a disease in which your immune system attacks your own cells as if they were foreign invaders. This is called an autoimmune disease. In type 1 diabetes, your immune system attacks your pancreas cells and destroys their ability to make insulin. Most scientists believe that an environmental factor, such as a virus, triggers this process in your body. Your genes play a role as well. Certain people are more prone to develop diabetes.

Likewise, health experts don’t fully understand what causes type 2 diabetes. They do know that it is closely linked to obesity and it tends to run in families. Type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes but you can prevent it in many cases. If you have type 2 diabetes, you may be able to reverse or control high blood sugar through diet and exercise. However, you will always have diabetes and you will always need to manage it to prevent serious health problems.

Is There a Cure for Diabetes?

Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes are chronic, lifelong conditions. Currently, there is no permanent cure for either type. However, there is hope in research for a cure and in prevention. While you can’t prevent type 1 diabetes, you may be able to prevent type 2 diabetes. Maintaining a healthy weight, eating a healthy diet, and exercising regularly are all ways you can help prevent type 2 diabetes.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that diabetes affects 25.8 million people in the United States (Source: CDC). Because it is such a big health issue, there’s a lot of research looking at how to cure diabetes. Research focuses on the autoimmune process in type 1 diabetes, genetic factors, and how to make new pancreas cells.

What Is the Current Research?

Scientists are conducting cutting-edge research into finding a cure. Current research includes:

  • Artificial pancreas. This partially automated system uses a continuous glucose monitor and an insulin pump to deliver insulin doses based on your blood sugar readings. A computer coordinates the monitor and the pump. Someday, researchers hope to develop a fully automated system that would work just like your pancreas.

  • Genetic manipulation, or transforming cells that usually don’t make insulin into ones that do

  • Islet cell transplantation. Islet cells are clusters of cells in your pancreas. Within the clusters are beta cells that make insulin. Islet cell transplantation takes cells from an organ donor and puts them in your pancreas.

  • Pancreas transplantation takes an entire pancreas from an organ donor or part of a pancreas from a live person and puts it in your body.

  • Resetting the immune system by inactivating it and transplanting new immune system cells

  • Programming stem cells so that they can make insulin

  • Vaccines to prevent your immune system from attacking the cells that make insulin

While these therapies are in the beginning stages of research and development, in the future they may act as stepping stones along the path for helping people with type 1 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes is unique because your body becomes resistant to the effects of insulin. Researchers need to fully understand insulin resistance before these approaches can help with type 2 diabetes.

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Dec. 15, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2013 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

Your Guide to Diabetes