Here’s a not-so-sweet fact: According to the American Diabetes Association, one in three American adults will be diagnosed with diabetes by the year 2050 if present trends continue. The disturbing possibility of such a widespread phnomenon is what motivated two Israeli researchers to seek out more effective methods of treating and detecting the forthcoming high blood sugar epidemic.
Both Dr. Eli Lewis of Ben Gurion University and Dr. Nataly Lerner of Tel Aviv University’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine made recent breakthroughs individually, first in the treatment of Type I diabetes, or juvenile diabetes, then in the early detection of Type II diabetes, or adult-onset diabetes, using a blood test (respectively).
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Diabetes is a metabolic disease in which the cells of the affected fail (Type I) or resist (Type II) the production of insulin, the hormone created in the pancreas which regulates carbohydrate and fat intake in the cells. The failure to introduce insulin into the cells results in high blood glucose levels, or in colloquial terms, “high blood sugar” and must eventually be balanced out with insulin or a sugarless, low-fat diet.
AAT: The demise of the insulin pump
For the 215,000 Americans under 20 who live daily with insulin pumps and controlled diets as a result of their Type I diabetes, Dr. Lewis’s findings, recently published in the “Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism,” could provide a needed sense of relief. The new treatment for Type I diabetes, developed in collaboration with the University of Colorado Health Science Center, uses an anti-inflammatory serum protein Alpha1-Antitrypsin (AAT) to keep the patient’s glucose levels stable for more than two years without any insulin injections.
The first eight-week treatment was successfully conducted and kept the patients’ blood sugar levels completely in control without insulin. The treatment course consisted of a weekly infusion-drip of AAT, followed by a year-long follow-up with 12 patients.
Lewis expanded on the applications of his research into AAT: “This is an excellent beginning in our mission to determine the exciting possibilities of a safe therapy for autoimmune diabetes,” says Lewis, who is the director of the Ben Gurion University Clinical Islet Laboratory and a lecturer in clinical biochemistry, pharmacology and immunology for the Faculty of Health Sciences.
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Detecting Type II earlier than ever before
On the Type II front, Doctor Nataly Lerner and team’s breakthrough research was targeted at those 79 million Americans (and growing) who have “prediabetes,” a significantly higher chance of developing with Type II diabetes. Lerner discovered that the already common A1c test to measure average blood sugar levels in Type II patients could also be used on “prediabetes” patients to screen for the disease at earlier stages than ever before.
Lerner, together with Doctor Michal Shani and Professor Shlomo Vicker, also of the Sackler Medical Faculty, surveyed the medical history of 10,201 patients in central Israel who had been given the A1c test between 2002 and 2005. The team found that about 22.5 percent of the test group that received prediabetic levels of between 5.7 and 6.4 percent on their A1c tests (the diabetic level is 6.4 percent and above) were diagnosed with diabetes 5-8 years later and that every 0.5 percent increase in A1c levels up to 7 percent doubled the patient’s risk of developing diabetes. All of this means that the tests usually used on diagnosed Type II patients could also determine the level of risk that “prediabetic” people face.
“We were actually able to quantify how risk increases with A1c levels,” says Lerner of the research recently published in the “European Journal of General Practice” which is set to boost the increase of diabetes awareness and make it easier for doctors to provide earlier diagnosis and treatment. As a bonus, the test is simpler to administer than the most common blood glucose tests, requiring neither fasting nor consuming anything.
With diabetes numbers in the millions, both Lewis’s and Lerner’s research into the field of both more effective treatments and earlier diagnosis tests could not be more important and timely. For too many high blood sugar and insulin pumps are a way of life, but they may soon be a thing of the past thanks to Israeli medical breakthroughs.