Major diabetes find

By Laura Glick

University of Calgary researchers have mapped out and identified the events leading to the onset of diabetes, bringing sufferers a small step closer to a cure.

Last week, Dr. Ji-Won Yoon, who holds the Julia McFarlane Diabetes Research Chair at the U of C, presented findings which identified a key pancreatic protein, glutamic acid decarboxylase or gad, in the initial stages of Type 1 diabetes.

"It’s important to understand that right now we really don’t know what the cause of Type 1 diabetes is," said Dr. David Lau, a colleague of Yoon. "[Yoon’s] research has now identified the first step that
leads to the destruction of insulin producing beta cells."

Yoon’s research involved mice and is years away from clinical trials on humans or actual implementation of the discovery in a viable form, such as vaccination or transplant organ tissue manipulation.

"It is very difficult to study the role of gad in humans," said Yoon, a veteran diabetes researcher. "We need an animal model."

His findings, however, are crucial to drawing the blueprint of diabetes onset and have made initial strides towards prevention and ultimately a cure. Currently, much more research is required before either goal can be reached.

"At the present time, anyone who already has destroyed beta cells (so called Type 1 diabetic patients) is not directly related to these
findings," explained Yoon as he stressed the prevention aspect of his discovery.

GAD, the pancreatic protein highlighted by Yoon’s work, is a naturally occurring protein found in both healthy individuals and diabetics. The difference occurs in the cells’ expression of the protein. When the gad cell is in an expressed form, the body of a diabetic views it as a foreign cell and initiates an immune system attack. Diabetes results because the gad cells are neighbours to the insulin-producing beta cells, which are also destroyed.

"Over 90 per cent of the persons who have the antibody against GAD will eventually become diabetic," explained Yoon.

Yoon’s focus on gad cells and associated antibodies lead to greater understanding of the events in the preliminary stages of diabetes. This can, in turn, be utilized and implemented when deciding which route to follow toward a cure.

At the present time, more animal research is necessary, along with further investigation into the role of gad itself and the properties which make it prone to attack in afflicted individuals. Once more information is gathered human trials will follow, which will determine if human gad reacts like mouse GAD.

The complete report of Yoon and his research team’s work
was published in the May 14 issue of the journal Science.

Diabetes research is considered highly important because of the
growing prevalence and high treatment costs.

"On an annual basis it costs over $3 billion dollars a year," said Lau, adding that of the 2 million Canadians who have diabetes, 30­40,000 are Calgarians.

For more information on diabetes, contact the Canadian Diabetes
Association’s Calgary chapter at 266­0620 or visit their website

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