Introduction to diabetes

Diabetes is a chronic disease in which the blood glucose levels in the body are elevated. Insulin is a hormone released from insulin producing cells in the pancreas that allows the sugar in the blood to enter cells. This hormone lowers the blood glucose levels. In the cells glucose will be converted to energy. When blood glucose levels are elevated, also called hyperglycemia, this can lead to serious damage to organs, nerves and blood vessels in the long term. In the Netherlands there are 1 million people living with diabetes of which ~10% has type 1 diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes

The most extreme form is type 1 in which nearly all beta cells in the pancreatic islets of the pancreas are destroyed. The cause of type I diabetes is not known but genetic, environmental or other factors are involved and it affects approximately 25 million people worldwide. Patients with type 1 diabetes often develop this disease at a young age (<25 years) and depend on life-long daily insulin injections for survival. These daily injections, the self monitoring of glucose concentrations and continuous concern about the potential loss of consciousness due to the insulin therapy (leading to too low blood sugars, "hypo") have a major impact on the quality of life of these patients. In addition, there are severe long term complications due to the high blood sugars (eye, kidney, heart and vascular disease). Replacement of the insulin producing beta cells is the only option to restore normal sugar levels without a risk of hypos in these patients. In addition, diabetes causes a huge financial burden to society - 10 billion Euros in direct and indirect costs per year. Curing diabetes will save lives and money, but most importantly, it will greatly improve the quality of life for patients.

Type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is a metabolic disorder and accounts for 90% of diabetes cases. In type 2 diabetes the insulin producing cells make less insulin and the body has a decreased ability to use the insulin. Type 2 diabetes may be prevented or delayed by losing weight and increasing exercise. 

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