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Seeing Signs of Diabetes

Molecular traces spot the disease.
August 15, 2007

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.

Preliminary tests show that PET scans using a new molecular tracer can distinguish between rats with healthy levels of insulin-­producing cells in the pancreas (glowing areas above) and rats whose ­insulin-producing cells have been chemically damaged.

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.

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