Type 1 Diabetes - a brief summary

Type 1 Diabetes, formerly known as juvenile or early onset diabetes, is an autoimmune disease in which the body's own immune system destroys the cells that produce insulin. Located in the pancreas, these are known as beta cells.

Although rarer than Type 2 Diabetes, Type 1 is more severe, and accounts for approximately 10 - 15 per cent of cases worldwide. That means globally, there are about 20 million people living with it.

There is currently no cure or preventative measure for Type 1 Diabetes. Patients are dependent for the rest of their lives on regular injections of insulin to control their blood sugar levels. Combined with some conservative lifestyle choices, insulin lets people manage their diabetes, but the control of blood sugar is never perfect. Patients run the risk of going “high” or “low”, both of which can have serious consequences, including death. As well as this acute danger, poorly controlled blood sugar levels can be damaging to a number of organs in the long term. Kidney problems (diabetic nephropathy), blindness (diabetic retinopathy), and nerve damage (diabetic neuropathy) are not uncommon. The main reason for these problems is damage to the small blood vessels. Larger vessels can be damaged too, leading to coronary artery disease (which causes angina or myocardial infarction; "heart attack"), stroke, and peripheral vascular disease. The International Diabetes Foundation estimates that diabetes will cause 3.8 million deaths worldwide in 2007. It is particularly hard for people in poorer countries, who often have to pay the full cost of the insulin they depend on to survive.

Research is ongoing to discover the exact cause of Type 1 Diabetes, which remains unknown. However, we have been given hope in the past several years by laboratory research and some small clinical studies. Evidence is emerging that it may be possible to prevent or delay the onset of Type 1 Diabetes. The key role of the Diabetes Vaccine Development Centre is to translate this basic research into clinical outcomes.

The complex protein structure of insulin

The Diabetes Vaccine Development Centre (DVDC) is a jointly supported initiative of
Australia's National Health and Medical Research Council and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International.
The DVDC is administered through The Garvan Institute of Medical Research