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May 17, 2002

Research: Causes and Prevention

Question from the United Kingdom:

A flatmate of one of my good friends says that diabetes cannot be an autoimmune disease because, in his words, "nobody knows what causes it yet." To make things more interesting, he's a medical student, so I feel as if he has some authority in the matter. Is this true? If so, it flies in the face of what I've been told since I was diagnosed with type 1 at age three -- nearly 20 years ago.


The autoimmune pathogenesis of type 1 diabetes is based on heavy scientific documentation since 1972 when Gianfranco Bottazzo and coworkers first discovered islet cell antibodies. This doesn’t mean we have found out why autoimmunity starts at some point in the life of an individual genetically predisposed to type 1 diabetes to kill his/her beta cells, and the quest still continues in scientific labs worldwide. One day I bet we’ll be able to address the question, and this will mean the real possibility to prevent and/or cure the disease.


[Editor’s comment: See Classification and Diagnosis of Diabetes.