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Transplanted Hopes

Islet-cell success may bring a diabetes cure closer

2:45pm, June 16, 2003

A compelling description of untreated diabetes comes from Aretaeus of Cappadocia. Writing in the second century A.D., he called the disease "a melting down of the flesh and limbs to urine."

Despite such an early recognition of the symptoms and severity of diabetes, effective treatment proved elusive. In the late 1800s, researchers localized the problem to the pancreas, a 100-gram digestive-system organ located just behind the stomach, and they figured out that people with the disease don't process sugar effectively.

In 1921, Canadian researchers isolated insulin from dog pancreases and discovered that the hormone is essential to controlling blood sugar. Given by injection, insulin reversed wasting in diabetic children and extended their lives.

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