A few diabetes papers of interest

i. Economic Costs of Diabetes in the U.S. in 2017.

“This study updates previous estimates of the economic burden of diagnosed diabetes and quantifies the increased health resource use and lost productivity associated with diabetes in 2017. […] The total estimated cost of diagnosed diabetes in 2017 is $327 billion, including $237 billion in direct medical costs and $90 billion in reduced productivity. For the cost categories analyzed, care for people with diagnosed diabetes accounts for 1 in 4 health care dollars in the U.S., and more than half of that expenditure is directly attributable to diabetes. People with diagnosed diabetes incur average medical expenditures of ∼$16,750 per year, of which ∼$9,600 is attributed to diabetes. People with diagnosed diabetes, on average, have medical expenditures ∼2.3 times higher than what expenditures would be in the absence of diabetes. Indirect costs include increased absenteeism ($3.3 billion) and reduced productivity while at work ($26.9 billion) for the employed population, reduced productivity for those not in the labor force ($2.3 billion), inability to work because of disease-related disability ($37.5 billion), and lost productivity due to 277,000 premature deaths attributed to diabetes ($19.9 billion). […] After adjusting for inflation, economic costs of diabetes increased by 26% from 2012 to 2017 due to the increased prevalence of diabetes and the increased cost per person with diabetes. The growth in diabetes prevalence and medical costs is primarily among the population aged 65 years and older, contributing to a growing economic cost to the Medicare program.”

The paper includes a lot of details about how they went about estimating these things, but I decided against including these details here – read the full paper if you’re interested. I did however want to add some additional details, so here goes:

Absenteeism is defined as the number of work days missed due to poor health among employed individuals, and prior research finds that people with diabetes have higher rates of absenteeism than the population without diabetes. Estimates from the literature range from no statistically significant diabetes effect on absenteeism to studies reporting 1–6 extra missed work days (and odds ratios of more absences ranging from 1.5 to 3.3) (1214). Analyzing 2014–2016 NHIS data and using a negative binomial regression to control for overdispersion in self-reported missed work days, we estimate that people with diabetes have statistically higher missed work days—ranging from 1.0 to 4.2 additional days missed per year by demographic group, or 1.7 days on average — after controlling for age-group, sex, race/ethnicity, diagnosed hypertension status (yes/no), and body weight status (normal, overweight, obese, unknown). […] Presenteeism is defined as reduced productivity while at work among employed individuals and is generally measured through worker responses to surveys. Multiple recent studies report that individuals with diabetes display higher rates of presenteeism than their peers without diabetes (12,1517). […] We model productivity loss associated with diabetes-attributed presenteeism using the estimate (6.6%) from the 2012 study—which is toward the lower end of the 1.8–38% range reported in the literature. […] Reduced performance at work […] accounted for 30% of the indirect cost of diabetes.”

It is of note that even with a somewhat conservative estimate of presenteeism, this cost component is an order of magnitude larger than the absenteeism variable. It is worth keeping in mind that this ratio is likely to be different elsewhere; due to the way the American health care system is structured/financed – health insurance is to a significant degree linked to employment – you’d expect the estimated ratio to be different from what you might observe in countries like the UK or Denmark. Some more related numbers from the paper:

Inability to work associated with diabetes is estimated using a conservative approach that focuses on unemployment related to long-term disability. Logistic regression with 2014–2016 NHIS data suggests that people aged 18–65 years with diabetes are significantly less likely to be in the workforce than people without diabetes. […] we use a conservative approach (which likely underestimates the cost associated with inability to work) to estimate the economic burden associated with reduced labor force participation. […] Study results suggest that people with diabetes have a 3.1 percentage point higher rate of being out of the workforce and receiving disability payments compared with their peers without diabetes. The diabetes effect increases with age and varies by demographic — ranging from 2.1 percentage points for non-Hispanic white males aged 60–64 years to 10.6 percentage points for non-Hispanic black females aged 55–59 years.”

“In 2017, an estimated 24.7 million people in the U.S. are diagnosed with diabetes, representing ∼7.6% of the total population (and 9.7% of the adult population). The estimated national cost of diabetes in 2017 is $327 billion, of which $237 billion (73%) represents direct health care expenditures attributed to diabetes and $90 billion (27%) represents lost productivity from work-related absenteeism, reduced productivity at work and at home, unemployment from chronic disability, and premature mortality. Particularly noteworthy is that excess costs associated with medications constitute 43% of the total direct medical burden. This includes nearly $15 billion for insulin, $15.9 billion for other antidiabetes agents, and $71.2 billion in excess use of other prescription medications attributed to higher disease prevalence associated with diabetes. […] A large portion of medical costs associated with diabetes costs is for comorbidities.”

Insulin is ~$15 billion/year, out of a total estimated cost of $327 billion. This is less than 5% of the total cost. Take note of the 70 billion. I know I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: Most of diabetes-related costs are not related to insulin.

“…of the projected 162 million hospital inpatient days in the U.S. in 2017, an estimated 40.3 million days (24.8%) are incurred by people with diabetes [who make up ~7.6% of the population – see above], of which 22.6 million days are attributed to diabetes. About one-fourth of all nursing/residential facility days are incurred by people with diabetes. About half of all physician office visits, emergency department visits, hospital outpatient visits, and medication prescriptions (excluding insulin and other antidiabetes agents) incurred by people with diabetes are attributed to their diabetes. […] The largest contributors to the cost of diabetes are higher use of prescription medications beyond antihyperglycemic medications ($71.2 billion), higher use of hospital inpatient services ($69.7 billion), medications and supplies to directly treat diabetes ($34.6 billion), and more office visits to physicians and other health providers ($30.0 billion). Approximately 61% of all health care expenditures attributed to diabetes are for health resources used by the population aged ≥65 years […] we estimate the average annual excess expenditures for the population aged <65 years and ≥65 years, respectively, at $6,675 and $13,239. Health care expenditures attributed to diabetes generally increase with age […] The population with diabetes is older and sicker than the population without diabetes, and consequently annual medical expenditures are much higher (on average) than for people without diabetes“.

“Of the estimated 24.7 million people with diagnosed diabetes, analysis of NHIS data suggests that ∼8.1 million are in the workforce. If people with diabetes participated in the labor force at rates similar to their peers without diabetes, there would be ∼2 million additional people aged 18–64 years in the workforce.”

Comparing the 2017 estimates with those produced for 2012, the overall cost of diabetes appears to have increased by ∼25% after adjusting for inflation, reflecting an 11% increase in national prevalence of diagnosed diabetes and a 13% increase in the average annual diabetes-attributed cost per person with diabetes.”

ii. Current Challenges and Opportunities in the Prevention and Management of Diabetic Foot Ulcers.

“Diabetic foot ulcers remain a major health care problem. They are common, result in considerable suffering, frequently recur, and are associated with high mortality, as well as considerable health care costs. While national and international guidance exists, the evidence base for much of routine clinical care is thin. It follows that many aspects of the structure and delivery of care are susceptible to the beliefs and opinion of individuals. It is probable that this contributes to the geographic variation in outcome that has been documented in a number of countries. This article considers these issues in depth and emphasizes the urgent need to improve the design and conduct of clinical trials in this field, as well as to undertake systematic comparison of the results of routine care in different health economies. There is strong suggestive evidence to indicate that appropriate changes in the relevant care pathways can result in a prompt improvement in clinical outcomes.”

“Despite considerable advances made over the last 25 years, diabetic foot ulcers (DFUs) continue to present a very considerable health care burden — one that is widely unappreciated. DFUs are common, the median time to healing without surgery is of the order of 12 weeks, and they are associated with a high risk of limb loss through amputation (14). The 5-year survival following presentation with a new DFU is of the order of only 50–60% and hence worse than that of many common cancers (4,5). While there is evidence that mortality is improving with more widespread use of cardiovascular risk reduction (6), the most recent data — derived from a Veterans Health Adminstration population—reported that 1-, 2-, and 5-year survival was only 81, 69, and 29%, respectively, and the association between mortality and DFU was stronger than that of any macrovascular disease (7). […] There is […] wide variation in clinical outcome within the same country (1315), suggesting that some people are being managed considerably less well than others.”

“Data on community-wide ulcer incidence are very limited. Overall incidences of 5.8 and 6.0% have been reported in selected populations of people with diabetes in the U.S. (2,12,20) while incidences of 2.1 and 2.2% have been reported from less selected populations in Europe—either in all people with diabetes (21) or in those with type 2 disease alone (22). It is not known whether the incidence is changing […] Although a number of risk factors associated with the development of ulceration are well recognized (23), there is no consensus on which dominate, and there are currently no reports of any studies that might justify the adoption of any specific strategy for population selection in primary prevention.”

“The incidence of major amputation is used as a surrogate measure of the failure of DFUs to heal. Its main value lies in the relative ease of data capture, but its value is limited because it is essentially a treatment and not a true measure of disease outcome. In no other major disease (including malignancies, cardiovascular disease, or cerebrovascular disease) is the number of treatments used as a measure of outcome. But despite this and other limitations of major amputation as an outcome measure (36), there is evidence that the overall incidence of major amputation is falling in some countries with nationwide databases (37,38). Perhaps the most convincing data come from the U.K., where the unadjusted incidence has fallen dramatically from about 3.0–3.5 per 1,000 people with diabetes per year in the mid-1990s to 1.0 or less per 1,000 per year in both England and Scotland (14,39).”

New ulceration after healing is high, with ∼40% of people having a new ulcer (whether at the same site or another) within 12 months (10). This is a critical aspect of diabetic foot disease—emphasizing that when an ulcer heals, foot disease must be regarded not as cured, but in remission (10). In this respect, diabetic foot disease is directly analogous to malignancy. It follows that the person whose foot disease is in remission should receive the same structured follow-up as a person who is in remission following treatment for cancer. Of all areas concerned with the management of DFUs, this long-term need for specialist surveillance is arguably the one that should command the greatest attention.

“There is currently little evidence to justify the adoption of very many of the products and procedures currently promoted for use in clinical practice. Guidelines are required to encourage clinicians to adopt only those treatments that have been shown to be effective in robust studies and principally in RCTs. The design and conduct of such RCTs needs improved governance because many are of low standard and do not always provide the evidence that is claimed.”

Incidence numbers like the ones included above will not always give you the full picture when there are a lot of overlapping data points in the sample (due to recurrence), but sometimes that’s all you have. However in the type 1 context we also do have some additional numbers that make it easier to appreciate the scale of the problem in that context. Here are a few additional data from a related publication I blogged some time ago (do keep in mind that estimates are likely to be lower in community samples of type 2 diabetics, even if perhaps nobody actually know precisely how much lower):

“The rate of nontraumatic amputation in T1DM is high, occurring at 0.4–7.2% per year (28). By 65 years of age, the cumulative probability of lower-extremity amputation in a Swedish administrative database was 11% for women with T1DM and 20.7% for men (10). In this Swedish population, the rate of lower-extremity amputation among those with T1DM was nearly 86-fold that of the general population.” (link)

Do keep in mind that people don’t stop getting ulcers once they reach retirement age (the 11%/20.7% is not lifetime risk, it’s a biased lower bound).

iii. Excess Mortality in Patients With Type 1 Diabetes Without Albuminuria — Separating the Contribution of Early and Late Risks.

“The current study investigated whether the risk of mortality in patients with type 1 diabetes without any signs of albuminuria is different than in the general population and matched control subjects without diabetes.”

“Despite significant improvements in management, type 1 diabetes remains associated with an increase in mortality relative to the age- and sex-matched general population (1,2). Acute complications of diabetes may initially account for this increased risk (3,4). However, with increasing duration of disease, the leading contributor to excess mortality is its vascular complications including diabetic kidney disease (DKD) and cardiovascular disease (CVD). Consequently, patients who subsequently remain free of complications may have little or no increased risk of mortality (1,2,5).”

“Mortality was evaluated in a population-based cohort of 10,737 children (aged 0–14 years) with newly diagnosed type 1 diabetes in Finland who were listed on the National Public Health Institute diabetes register, Central Drug Register, and Hospital Discharge Register in 1980–2005 […] We excluded patients with type 2 diabetes and diabetes occurring secondary to other conditions, such as steroid use, Down syndrome, and congenital malformations of the pancreas. […] FinnDiane participants who died were more likely to be male, older, have a longer duration of diabetes, and later age of diabetes onset […]. Notably, none of the conventional variables associated with complications (e.g., HbA1c, hypertension, smoking, lipid levels, or AER) were associated with all-cause mortality in this cohort of patients without albuminuria. […] The most frequent cause of death in the FinnDiane cohort was IHD [ischaemic heart disease, US] […], largely driven by events in patients with long-standing diabetes and/or previously established CVD […]. The mortality rate ratio for IHD was 4.34 (95% CI 2.49–7.57, P < 0.0001). There remained a number of deaths due to acute complications of diabetes, including ketoacidosis and hypoglycemia. This was most significant in patients with a shorter duration of diabetes but still apparent in those with long-standing diabetes[…]. Notably, deaths due to “risk-taking behavior” were lower in adults with type 1 diabetes compared with matched individuals without diabetes: mortality rate ratio was 0.42 (95% CI 0.22–0.79, P = 0.006) […] This was largely driven by the 80% reduction (95% CI 0.06–0.66) in deaths due to alcohol and drugs in males with type 1 diabetes (Table 3). No reduction was observed in female patients (rate ratio 0.90 [95% CI 0.18–4.44]), although the absolute event rate was already more than seven times lower in Finnish women than in men.”

The chief determinant of excess mortality in patients with type 1 diabetes is its complications. In the first 10 years of type 1 diabetes, the acute complications of diabetes dominate and result in excess mortality — more than twice that observed in the age- and sex-matched general population. This early excess explains why registry studies following patients with type 1 diabetes from diagnosis have consistently reported reduced life expectancy, even in patients free of chronic complications of diabetes (68). By contrast, studies of chronic complications, like FinnDiane and the Pittsburgh Epidemiology of Diabetes Complications Study (1,2), have followed participants with, usually, >10 years of type 1 diabetes at baseline. In these patients, the presence or absence of chronic complications of diabetes is critical for survival. In particular, the presence and severity of albuminuria (as a marker of vascular burden) is strongly associated with mortality outcomes in type 1 diabetes (1). […] the FinnDiane normoalbuminuric patients showed increased all-cause mortality compared with the control subjects without diabetes in contrast to when the comparison was made with the Finnish general population, as in our previous publication (1). Two crucial causes behind the excess mortality were acute diabetes complications and IHD. […] Comparisons with the general population, rather than matched control subjects, may overestimate expected mortality, diluting the SMR estimate”.

Despite major improvements in the delivery of diabetes care and other technological advances, acute complications remain a major cause of death both in children and in adults with type 1 diabetes. Indeed, the proportion of deaths due to acute events has not changed significantly over the last 30 years. […] Even in patients with long-standing diabetes (>20 years), the risk of death due to hypoglycemia or ketoacidosis remains a constant companion. […] If it were possible to eliminate all deaths from acute events, the observed mortality rate would have been no different from the general population in the early cohort. […] In long-term diabetes, avoiding chronic complications may be associated with mortality rates comparable with those of the general population; although death from IHD remains increased, this is offset by reduced risk-taking behavior, especially in men.”

“It is well-known that CVD is strongly associated with DKD (15). However, in the current study, mortality from IHD remained higher in adults with type 1 diabetes without albuminuria compared with matched control subjects in both men and women. This is concordant with other recent studies also reporting increased mortality from CVD in patients with type 1 diabetes in the absence of DKD (7,8) and reinforces the need for aggressive cardiovascular risk reduction even in patients without signs of microvascular disease. However, it is important to note that the risk of death from CVD, though significant, is still at least 10-fold lower than observed in patients with albuminuria (1). Alcohol- and drug-related deaths were substantially lower in patients with type 1 diabetes compared with the age-, sex-, and region-matched control subjects. […] This may reflect a selection bias […] Nonparticipation in health studies is associated with poorer health, stress, and lower socioeconomic status (17,18), which are in turn associated with increased risk of premature mortality. It can be speculated that with inclusion of patients with risk-taking behavior, the mortality rate in patients with diabetes would be even higher and, consequently, the SMR would also be significantly higher compared with the general population. Selection of patients who despite long-standing diabetes remained free of albuminuria may also have included individuals more accepting of general health messages and less prone to depression and nihilism arising from treatment failure.”

I think the selection bias problem is likely to be quite significant, as these results don’t really match what I’ve seen in the past. For example a recent Norwegian study on young type 1 diabetics found high mortality in their sample in significant degree due to alcohol-related causes and suicide: “A relatively high proportion of deaths were related to alcohol. […] Death was related to alcohol in 15% of cases. SMR for alcohol-related death was 6.8 (95% CI 4.5–10.3), for cardiovascular death was 7.3 (5.4–10.0), and for violent death was 3.6 (2.3–5.3).” That doesn’t sound very similar to the study above, and that study’s also from Scandinavia. In this study, in which they used data from diabetic organ donors, they found that a large proportion of the diabetics included in the study used illegal drugs: “we observed a high rate of illicit substance abuse: 32% of donors reported or tested positive for illegal substances (excluding marijuana), and multidrug use was common.”

Do keep in mind that one of the main reasons why ‘alcohol-related’ deaths are higher in diabetes is likely to be that ‘drinking while diabetic’ is a lot more risky than is ‘drinking while not diabetic’. On a related note, diabetics may not appreciate the level of risk they’re actually exposed to while drinking, due to community norms etc., so there might be a disconnect between risk preferences and observed behaviour (i.e., a diabetic might be risk averse but still engage in risky behaviours because he doesn’t know how risky those behaviours in which he’s engaging actually are).

Although the illicit drugs study indicates that diabetics at least in some samples are not averse to engaging in risky behaviours, a note of caution is probably warranted in the alcohol context: High mortality from alcohol-mediated acute complications needn’t be an indication that diabetics drink more than non-diabetics; that’s a separate question, you might see numbers like these even if they in general drink less. And a young type 1 diabetic who suffers a cardiac arrhythmia secondary to long-standing nocturnal hypoglycemia and subsequently is found ‘dead in bed’ after a bout of drinking is conceptually very different from a 50-year old alcoholic dying from a variceal bleed or acute pancreatitis. Parenthetically, if it is true that illicit drugs use is common in type 1 diabetics one reason might be that they are aware of the risks associated with alcohol (which is particularly nasty in terms of the metabolic/glycemic consequences in diabetes, compared to some other drugs) and thus they deliberately make a decision to substitute this drug with other drugs less likely to cause acute complications like severe hypoglycemic episodes or DKA (depending on the setting and the specifics, alcohol might be a contributor to both of these complications). If so, classical ‘risk behaviours’ may not always be ‘risk behaviours’ in diabetes. You need to be careful, this stuff’s complicated.

iv. Are All Patients With Type 1 Diabetes Destined for Dialysis if They Live Long Enough? Probably Not.

“Over the past three decades there have been numerous innovations, supported by large outcome trials that have resulted in improved blood glucose and blood pressure control, ultimately reducing cardiovascular (CV) risk and progression to nephropathy in type 1 diabetes (T1D) (1,2). The epidemiological data also support the concept that 25–30% of people with T1D will progress to end-stage renal disease (ESRD). Thus, not everyone develops progressive nephropathy that ultimately requires dialysis or transplantation. This is a result of numerous factors […] Data from two recent studies reported in this issue of Diabetes Care examine the long-term incidence of chronic kidney disease (CKD) in T1D. Costacou and Orchard (7) examined a cohort of 932 people evaluated for 50-year cumulative kidney complication risk in the Pittsburgh Epidemiology of Diabetes Complications study. They used both albuminuria levels and ESRD/transplant data for assessment. By 30 years’ duration of diabetes, ESRD affected 14.5% and by 40 years it affected 26.5% of the group with onset of T1D between 1965 and 1980. For those who developed diabetes between 1950 and 1964, the proportions developing ESRD were substantially higher at 34.6% at 30 years, 48.5% at 40 years, and 61.3% at 50 years. The authors called attention to the fact that ESRD decreased by 45% after 40 years’ duration between these two cohorts, emphasizing the beneficial roles of improved glycemic control and blood pressure control. It should also be noted that at 40 years even in the later cohort (those diagnosed between 1965 and 1980), 57.3% developed >300 mg/day albuminuria (7).”

Numbers like these may seem like ancient history (data from the 60s and 70s), but it’s important to keep in mind that many type 1 diabetics are diagnosed in early childhood, and that they don’t ‘get better’ later on – if they’re still alive, they’re still diabetic. …And very likely macroalbuminuric, at least if they’re from Pittsburgh. I was diagnosed in ’87.

“Gagnum et al. (8), using data from a Norwegian registry, also examined the incidence of CKD development over a 42-year follow-up period in people with childhood-onset (<15 years of age) T1D (8). The data from the Norwegian registry noted that the cumulative incidence of ESRD was 0.7% after 20 years and 5.3% after 40 years of T1D. Moreover, the authors noted the risk of developing ESRD was lower in women than in men and did not identify any difference in risk of ESRD between those diagnosed with diabetes in 1973–1982 and those diagnosed in 1989–2012. They concluded that there is a very low incidence of ESRD among patients with childhood-onset T1D diabetes in Norway, with a lower risk in women than men and among those diagnosed at a younger age. […] Analyses of population-based studies, similar to the Pittsburgh and Norway studies, showed that after 30 years of T1D the cumulative incidences of ESRD were only 10% for those diagnosed with T1D in 1961–1984 and 3% for those diagnosed in 1985–1999 in Japan (11), 3.3% for those diagnosed with T1D in 1977–2007 in Sweden (12), and 7.8% for those diagnosed with T1D in 1965–1999 in Finland (13) (Table 1).”

Do note that ESRD (end stage renal disease) is not the same thing as DKD (diabetic kidney disease), and that e.g. many of the Norwegians who did not develop ESRD nevertheless likely have kidney complications from their diabetes. That 5.3% is not the number of diabetics in that cohort who developed diabetes-related kidney complications, it’s the proportion of them who did and as a result of this needed a new kidney or dialysis in order not to die very soon. Do also keep in mind that both microalbuminuria and macroalbuminuria will substantially increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and -cardiac death. I recall a study where they looked at the various endpoints and found that more diabetics with microalbuminuria eventually died of cardiovascular disease than did ever develop kidney failure – cardiac risk goes up a lot long before end-stage renal disease. ESRD estimates don’t account for the full risk profile, and even if you look at mortality risk the number accounts for perhaps less than half of the total risk attributable to DKD. One thing the ESRD diagnosis does have going for it is that it’s a much more reliable variable indicative of significant pathology than is e.g. microalbuminuria (see e.g. this paper). The paper is short and not at all detailed, but they do briefly discuss/mention these issues:

“…there is a substantive difference between the numbers of people with stage 3 CKD (estimated glomerular filtration rate [eGFR] 30–59 mL/min/1.73 m2) versus those with stages 4 and 5 CKD (eGFR <30 mL/min/1.73 m2): 6.7% of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) population compared with 0.1–0.3%, respectively (14). This is primarily because of competing risks, such as death from CV disease that occurs in stage 3 CKD; hence, only the survivors are progressing into stages 4 and 5 CKD. Overall, these studies are very encouraging. Since the 1980s, risk of ESRD has been greatly reduced, while risk of CKD progression persists but at a slower rate. This reduced ESRD rate and slowed CKD progression is largely due to improvements in glycemic and blood pressure control and probably also to the institution of RAAS blockers in more advanced CKD. These data portend even better future outcomes if treatment guidance is followed. […] many medications are effective in blood pressure control, but RAAS blockade should always be a part of any regimen when very high albuminuria is present.”

v. New Understanding of β-Cell Heterogeneity and In Situ Islet Function.

“Insulin-secreting β-cells are heterogeneous in their regulation of hormone release. While long known, recent technological advances and new markers have allowed the identification of novel subpopulations, improving our understanding of the molecular basis for heterogeneity. This includes specific subpopulations with distinct functional characteristics, developmental programs, abilities to proliferate in response to metabolic or developmental cues, and resistance to immune-mediated damage. Importantly, these subpopulations change in disease or aging, including in human disease. […] We will discuss recent findings revealing functional β-cell subpopulations in the intact islet, the underlying basis for these identified subpopulations, and how these subpopulations may influence in situ islet function.”

I won’t cover this one in much detail, but this part was interesting:

“Gap junction (GJ) channels electrically couple β-cells within mouse and human islets (25), serving two main functions. First, GJ channels coordinate oscillatory dynamics in electrical activity and Ca2+ under elevated glucose or GLP-1, allowing pulsatile insulin secretion (26,27). Second, GJ channels lower spontaneous elevations in Ca2+ under low glucose levels (28). GJ coupling is also heterogeneous within the islet (29), leading to some β-cells being highly coupled and others showing negligible coupling. Several studies have examined how electrically heterogeneous cells interact via GJ channels […] This series of experiments indicate a “bistability” in islet function, where a threshold number of poorly responsive β-cells is sufficient to totally suppress islet function. Notably, when islets lacking GJ channels are treated with low levels of the KATP activator diazoxide or the GCK inhibitor mannoheptulose, a subpopulation of cells are silenced, presumably corresponding to the less functional population (30). Only diazoxide/mannoheptulose concentrations capable of silencing >40% of these cells will fully suppress Ca2+ elevations in normal islets. […] this indicates that a threshold number of poorly responsive cells can inhibit the whole islet. Thus, if there exists a threshold number of functionally competent β-cells (∼60–85%), then the islet will show coordinated elevations in Ca2+ and insulin secretion.

Below this threshold number, the islet will lack Ca2+ elevation and insulin secretion (Fig. 2). The precise threshold depends on the characteristics of the excitable and inexcitable populations: small numbers of inexcitable cells will increase the number of functionally competent cells required for islet activity, whereas small numbers of highly excitable cells will do the opposite. However, if GJ coupling is lowered, then inexcitable cells will exert a reduced suppression, also decreasing the threshold required. […] Paracrine communication between β-cells and other endocrine cells is also important for regulating insulin secretion. […] Little is known how these paracrine and juxtacrine mechanisms impact heterogeneous cells.”

vi. Closing in on the Mechanisms of Pulsatile Insulin Secretion.

“Insulin secretion from pancreatic islet β-cells occurs in a pulsatile fashion, with a typical period of ∼5 min. The basis of this pulsatility in mouse islets has been investigated for more than four decades, and the various theories have been described as either qualitative or mathematical models. In many cases the models differ in their mechanisms for rhythmogenesis, as well as other less important details. In this Perspective, we describe two main classes of models: those in which oscillations in the intracellular Ca2+ concentration drive oscillations in metabolism, and those in which intrinsic metabolic oscillations drive oscillations in Ca2+ concentration and electrical activity. We then discuss nine canonical experimental findings that provide key insights into the mechanism of islet oscillations and list the models that can account for each finding. Finally, we describe a new model that integrates features from multiple earlier models and is thus called the Integrated Oscillator Model. In this model, intracellular Ca2+ acts on the glycolytic pathway in the generation of oscillations, and it is thus a hybrid of the two main classes of models. It alone among models proposed to date can explain all nine key experimental findings, and it serves as a good starting point for future studies of pulsatile insulin secretion from human islets.”

This one covers material closely related to the study above, so if you find one of these papers interesting you might want to check out the other one as well. The paper is quite technical but if you were wondering why people are interested in this kind of stuff, one reason is that there’s good evidence at this point that insulin pulsativity is disturbed in type 2 diabetics and so it’d be nice to know why that is so that new drugs can be developed to correct this.

April 25, 2018 Posted by | Biology, Cardiology, Diabetes, Epidemiology, Health Economics, Medicine, Nephrology, Pharmacology, Studies | Leave a comment