Is There a Cure for Diabetes?

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes are chronic, lifelong conditions. Currently, there is no cure for either type, although researchers hope to one day find a cure. In the meantime, while you cannot prevent type 1 diabetes, you may be able to prevent type 2 diabetes. Maintaining a healthy weight, eating a healthy diet, and exercising regularly can help prevent type 2 diabetes.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that diabetes affects 34 million people in the United States (Source: CDC). Because it is such a common health issue, there is a lot of current research attempting to find a cure. This research focuses on the autoimmune process in type 1 diabetes, genetic factors, and how to make new pancreas cells.

What causes diabetes?

Scientists do not know exactly what causes diabetes. However, they think that type 1 diabetes is a disease in which your immune system attacks your own cells as though they were foreign invaders. This type of disease 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 developing diabetes.

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

Research in search of a cure

Scientists are conducting cutting-edge research into finding a cure for diabetes. 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: In this process, cells that usually do not make insulin are transformed 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 is transplanted and puts them into your body.
  • Pancreas transplantation: In this process, an entire pancreas from an organ donor or part of a pancreas from a live donor is transplanted into your body.
  • Immune system cell transplantation: This process resets the immune system by inactivating it. Then new immune system cells are transplanted into the patient.
  • Stem cell programming: Stem cells are programmed so they can make insulin in stem cell programming.
  • Vaccinations: Vaccines might be an option 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 help treat 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.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Feb 11
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  2. Artificial Pancreas Project, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. http://www.artificialpancreasproject.com/faq/default.html
  3. Basics About Diabetes, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/consumer/learn.htm#8
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