Mad cow disease, as well as many other conditions, are the result of infectious proteins called prions. And according to recent studies, a protein connected to diabetes, seems to also share some similarities with these proteins.
In fact, a simple injection containing this protein caused diabetes in mice. That is not to say that diabetes is contagious such as a cold would be. However, things like blood transfusions may indeed spread this disease.
A prion biologist by the name of Witold Surewicz claims that even though this protein has indeed shown some prion-like behavior, jumping to conclusions is the last thing we should do here.
He states that such a study raises the possibility that diabetes could be contagious, but much more research needs to be done to make such a conclusion.
Getting Into More Detail
Basically, prions are these misfolded proteins that can make proteins that are normally folded to misfold. And when such a process happens in one’s brain, the distorted proteins gather inside the cells and destroy them.
And even though such prion-related diseases are a rarity among the human race, they have some resemblances with more well-known illnesses like, say, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and Huntington’s disease.
You may have noticed that all of these are brain disorders, and all contain misfolded proteins. So what does diabetes have in common with such diseases, which are neurodegenerative by nature?
You see, in people with type II diabetes, there are lumps of protein in the pancreas which are very similar to those which accumulate in people with Alzheimer’s.
And large deposits of the protein might lead to the destruction of a large number of β cells which can be found in one’s pancreas and are important for producing insulin.
What Do The Tests Say?
Research done on mice proves this as those affected with such prions had much higher concentrations of glucose than those who weren’t. Not to mention that no different than humans, these animals also had unnatural glucose tolerance tests.
These tests measure one’s ability for metabolizing one dose of sugar. And, what’s even more noteworthy, huge amounts of the β cells in each animal’s pancreas died off.
And even though it is clear that diabetes can indeed spread from one being to another in specific circumstances, it is not like the flu and people should not panic that they can catch it so easily.
Having said that, much caution needs to be taken when taking organ transplants or blood transfusions into consideration. Some scientists claim that people may also be at risk from food.
That means if they had consumed the meat of animals that had already contained such diabetes-causing proteins.
And still, there are those who are more than just a little skeptical, such as the cell biologist and biochemist David Harris. He studies prions at Boston’s University School of Medicine, and thinks such a claim is “overstated”.
He points out that during the research scientists had used artificial means to transmit this disease. And that such interactions among people in their daily lives are not possible.
Furthermore, he says that the human pancreas isn’t the same as that of mice. Mice that were injected had gotten diabetes.
Either way, it remains to be seen where such claims and statements shall lead. One thing is for sure, this is certainly an interesting, albeit frightening new find.
Source: Science Mag | Healthline