OBJECTIVE To evaluate the extent of pancreatic β-cell function in a large number of insulin-dependent diabetic patients with a disease duration of 50 years or longer (Medalists).
RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODS Characterization of clinical and biochemical parameters and β-cell function of 411 Medalists with correlation with postmortem morphologic findings of 9 Medalists.
RESULTS The Medalist cohort, with a mean ± SD disease duration and age of 56.2 ± 5.8 and 67.2 ± 7.5 years, respectively, has a clinical phenotype similar to type 1 diabetes (type 1 diabetes): mean ± SD onset at 11.0 ± 6.4 years, BMI at 26.0 ± 5.1 kg/m2, insulin dose of 0.46 ± 0.2 u/kg, ∼94% positive for DR3 and/or DR4, and 29.5% positive for either IA2 or glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD) autoantibodies. Random serum C-peptide levels showed that more than 67.4% of the participants had levels in the minimal (0.03–0.2 nmol/l) or sustained range (≥0.2 nmol/l). Parameters associated with higher random C-peptide were lower hemoglobin A1C, older age of onset, higher frequency of HLA DR3 genotype, and responsiveness to a mixed-meal tolerance test (MMTT). Over half of the Medalists with fasting C-peptide >0.17 nmol/l responded in MMTT by a twofold or greater rise over the course of the test compared to fasting. Postmortem examination of pancreases from nine Medalists showed that all had insulin+ β-cells with some positive for TUNEL staining, indicating apoptosis.
CONCLUSIONS Demonstration of persistence and function of insulin-producing pancreatic cells suggests the possibility of a steady state of turnover in which stimuli to enhance endogenous β cells could be a viable therapeutic approach in a significant number of patients with type 1 diabetes, even for those with chronic duration.
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- Received May 12, 2010.
- Accepted July 30, 2010.
- © 2010 by the American Diabetes Association.
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