Every year, thousands of people, young and old, experience the malaise and nagging thirst that are characteristic of untreated type I diabetes. Also called juvenile-onset diabetes, this disease stems from the death of beta cells in the pancreas. These cells make insulin, the hormone that regulates sugar metabolism. In most patients, their own immune cells do the killing.
Japanese scientists have now confirmed that some patients have a peculiar kind of diabetes that doesn't fit this pattern. Instead of immune cells, an unknown agent—possibly a virus or a chemical in the environment—seems to destroy the beta cells. Moreover, these patients fall ill rapidly, the researchers report in the Feb. 3 New England Journal Of Medicine.