Diabetes could be cured after scientists discovered that toxic clumps of a hormone stop cells producing insulin.
Scientists at Manchester University have found that both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes are driven by the same underlying mechanism.
The findings suggest that both forms occur when the hormone amylin begins to clump together, surrounding cells, and preventing them from producing insulin.
Insulin is essential for moving sugar from the blood stream into muscles and fatty tissue to provide energy. But too little insulin allows dangerous levels of glucose to build up in the blood, causing damage to the heart kidneys, eyes and nerves.
However the new finding could pave the way for drugs which stop the amylin build-up in the first place or dissolve clumps which are already present.
More than three million people in Britain have been diagnosed with diabetes, with that figure expected to five million by 2025.
The vast majority of sufferers (85 per cent) have Type 2 diabetes, which is linked to obesity, poor diet and sedentary lifestyles.
More than 70,000 deaths a year occur among those suffering from the condition – one in seven of all deaths.
The pancreas produces both insulin and amylin which usually work together to regulate the body’s response to food.
However, some of the amylin that is produced can get deposited around cells in the pancreas as toxic clumps, which then, in turn, destroy those cells that produce insulin. The consequence of this cell death is diabetes.
Previous research suggested that this was the cause of Type 2 diabetes. But now scientists believe it could also explain Type 1, which occurs in childhood.
The team hopes to have potential medicines ready to go into clinical trials in the next two years and it is anticipated that these will be tested in both type-1 and type-2 diabetic patients.
Clinical trials are being planned with research groups in England and Scotland.
However diabetes charities said people should adopt healthier lifestyles to avoid Type 2 diabetes rather than wait for a pill.
Dr Alasdair Rankin, Director of Research at Diabetes UK, said: “Amylin has been studied in diabetes for many years.
“Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes are two very different conditions. We don’t know exactly what causes Type 1 but many possibilities have been suggested and amylin is just one of these.
“We know that in Type 2 diabetes there are several factors that increase a person’s risk, including ethnicity, age, family history and being overweight.
“So while there is no way to reduce your risk of Type 1 diabetes, the most effective way to reduce your risk of Type 2 is to keep to a healthy weight by eating a healthy balanced diet and being physically active.”
The study was published in the Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biolog.
Provided By Sarah Knapton