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Assessing the Biomarkers of Diabetes

Ellie McCluey | February 27th, 2024

Recently published in the journal Diabetes, a recent study at Vanderbilt University has uncovered characteristics of pancreas tissue that are consistent in both Type I and II diabetes, aging, and obesity. The study demonstrates new findings in how Type I and II diabetes generally affect patients outside of the widely known effects. 

Type I diabetes is a chronic autoimmune condition caused by a mixture of genetic and environmental factors. Type I diabetes is characterized by autoimmune cells attacking the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas. Insulin is an important hormone for regulating blood sugar levels by inducing glucose uptake in cells. The loss of beta cells results in the inability to regulate blood sugar levels, causing serious adverse symptoms in those affected. 

Conversely, Type II diabetes is generally acquired over the course of one’s life and is often caused by a combination of lifestyle factors including diet and exercise. Type II is characterized by insulin-resistant cells as well as reduced insulin secretion.

Typically, diabetes research focuses on the endocrine pancreas, the portion of the pancreas that releases glucose-regulating hormones. This study, however, was primarily focused on the exocrine portion of the pancreas. The exocrine pancreas is responsible for secreting digestive enzymes into the small intestine, playing a major role in the digestion of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. The exocrine pancreas is especially hard to study due to its location and rapid degradation, making this study a huge advancement in pancreatic research. The study was conducted using a group of 119 tissue donors, 20 of which had Type I diabetes, 25 had Type II diabetes and 74 presented neither disease. 

The study began by focusing on the characteristics of the normal pancreas, which had not been previously studied in much detail. The description of the “normal pancreas” could then be compared to the affected tissues to identify common characteristics of both Type I and Type II diabetes. The comparison showed that tissue from donors with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes expressed differences in amount of inflammation, atrophy, patterns of fibrosis and damage to blood vessels. Additionally, the researchers observations of exocrine tissues found a linkage between aging and diabetes with the disease-related tissue injury potentially posing a risk for cancer development.

 As the 8th leading cause of death in the United States and a major contributor to several other deadly diseases, diabetes still garners much confusion around the extent of its effects. However, its importance is vital in improving the quality of life for those affected. The intended outcome of this research is to increase the availability of information for future studies focusing on exocrine and endocrine pancreas interactions, risk of pancreatic cancer, and prolonged injury as a result of diabetes.


Works Cited

Snyder, B. (n.d.). Pancreas “crosstalk” may influence course of Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. Vanderbilt University. Retrieved November 19, 2023, from

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