Scientists estimate that patients with type 1 or type 2 diabetes have already lost 50 to 90 percent of their insulin-producing cells by the time their conditions are diagnosed. A new molecular tracer could provide the first clear view of these cells in the pancreas, helping doctors detect and treat diabetes far earlier.
The tracer was developed by Hank Kung, a scientist at the University of Pennsylvania. It binds to a receptor inside the cells and is tagged with a radioactive label that can be detected using positron emission tomography (PET).
Preliminary tests show that PET scans using the tracer can distinguish between rats with healthy levels of insulin-producing cells in the pancreas (glowing areas in the image at left) and rats whose insulin-producing cells have been chemically damaged.
“If we could see cell loss early, perhaps we could get patients started on therapy before there is irreversible damage,” says Dan Skovronsky, founder and CEO of Avid Radiopharmaceuticals, the Philadelphia company that is developing the tracer.