The evidence is clear: being overweight increases the risk of diabetes — or at least type 2 diabetes. Now, new research has given an odd and unexpected twist to the link between weight and type 1 diabetes risk.
In a report published by the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers from City of Hope and the University of Florida, Gainesville, found that people with type 1 diabetes and those at higher risk of the disease appear to have lighter-than-normal pancreases.
Unlike type 2 diabetes, which is strongly linked to obesity, type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease. Diabetes can lead to life-threatening damage to the kidneys, heart, nerves and other organs.
Looking for clues to how type 1 diabetes arises, the researchers weighed 193 pancreases taken from three types of organ donors:
- Those who had type 1 diabetes
- Those who had slightly increased risk of type 1 diabetes
- Those who had no signs of diabetes
“This is the first time anyone has looked at pancreases in this way from at-risk donors,” said John Kaddis, Ph.D., staff scientist in the Department of Research Information Sciences at City of Hope and the study’s senior author.
The researchers found that the diabetic and at-risk pancreases were significantly lighter than the normal organs. Pancreases from donors who had type 1 diabetes came in at half the weight of normal organs, while at-risk donors’ pancreases weighed only 25 percent of normal.
The researchers say the findings hint that previously unsuspected parts of the pancreas might be involved in type 1 diabetes.
The researchers hope the findings might one day lead to ways of predicting and even preventing type 1 diabetes.
“At City of Hope, the Department of Information Sciences has been involved in supporting human islet research for over a decade,” said Joyce Niland, Edward and Estelle Alexander Chair in Information Sciences. “This paper highlights a critical finding that Dr. Kaddis has helped to surface, one that could have critical implications in the treatment of type 1 diabetes.”