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Glossary


Type 1 diabetes jargon buster 

Here you can find short summaries and descriptions of the key terms used in type 1 diabetes research. Just click on a letter to navigate, or browse the list below. If you don't find the term you are looking for, please email info@jdrf.org.uk and we will happily add it.

  

A

AdDIT (Adolescent Type 1 Diabetes Cardio-Renal Intervention Trial)

This is a clinical trial investigating treatments for young people at high risk of developing kidney and heart disease as a complication of their type 1 diabetes. JDRF hopes to be able to prevent these complications from developing by treating with two existing drugs. The trial is led by Professor David Dunger at the University of Cambridge and will involve volunteers from all around the world. See Getting involved in research for more information.

Adrenaline (also known as epinephrine)

A hormone and neurotransmitter that causes the 'fight or flight' response, increasing heart rate and constricting blood vessels. Its action also leads to increased blood glucose. In people with type 1 diabetes, adrenaline is released in response to severe hypoglycaemia, causing some of the familiar symptoms. 

Antibody

This is a small molecule made by the immune system used to identify potentially harmful substances like bacteria and viruses. Each antibody recognises something different and attaches to it like a key in a lock. Once an enemy has been identified, other parts of the immune system can destroy it. See Immune system for more information.

Anti-CD3 therapy

A type of treatment that uses a specially created antibody to modify the immune system preventing or lessening the autoimmune attack that destroys the beta cells in type 1 diabetes. 

A specially created anti-CD3 antibody binds to the CD3 molecule on T cells and is thought to decrease the number of killer T cells (that mistakenly destroy beta cells) and increase the number of T regulatory cells (that regulate the effect of killer T cells). This helps re-balance the immune response that leads to the destruction of beta cells.

Artificial pancreas

An ‘artificial pancreas’ is a piece of technology that could do the job of a healthy pancreas. It would provide exactly the right amount of insulin to the body, exactly when it’s needed.

An artificial pancreas system requires three things: an insulin pump, a continuous glucose monitor and an algorithm. Insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitors already exist. A growing number of people around the world are already using these technologies to help them control their glucose levels.

In the UK, JDRF funds researchers at the University of Cambridge currently helping to develop the artifical pancreas.

You can read more on the Artificial Pancreas section of our website.

B

B cells 

(see Immune system)

Basic research

When scientists talk about basic research – or ‘pure research’ – they mean research that looks at the fundamentals of how biological processes work. Examples of this type of research might be understanding what one specific gene actually does in a beta cell, or working out exactly how high levels of glucose in the blood stream can lead to nerve damage. See Types of research funded by JDRF for more information.

Beta cells

These are a type of cell in the pancreas that make and release insulin. They also release C-peptide. In type 1 diabetes, the immune system mistakenly attacks the beta cells of the pancreas.  

Biotechnology

When scientists use their knowledge of biology and how living things work to create useful products or processes. For example, the use of yeast fermentation in the production of beer.

Blood glucose levels

Glucose is the main source of energy for your body's cells. It is transported around the body in the blood. In the UK and most of the world, blood glucose levels are measured in millimoles per litre (mmol/L or mM). In the United States it is measured as milligrams per decilitre (mg/dL). 

In general, for someone with type 1 diabetes, optimal blood glucose levels are:

Before meals: 4 - 7 mmol/L  (72 - 126 mg/dL)
At bedtime: 6 - 8 mmol/L (108 - 180 mg/dL) 

C

C-peptide

This molecule is produced during the production and release of insulin in the body. The level of C-peptide corresponds directly to the levels of insulin produced by the beta cells so is sometimes used as a diagnostic test for type 1 diabetes. Recent research has shown that C-peptide also plays a role in other cellular processes and may offer a protective effect against future complications. 

Cardiovascular 

This is the circulatory system of the heart and blood vessels. Cardiovascular diseases involve the heart or blood vessels. 

  • Macrovascular
    This refers to the large blood vessels in your body leading to the heart, lungs, brain and limbs.
  • Microvascular
    This refers to the small blood vessels in your body, usually in the eyes and kidneys.

Cell

Cells are the smallest functional unit of living organisms. Your body is made up of trillions of individual cells that fit together like building blocks. There are hundreds of different types of cell, all with different jobs to do. For example, muscle cells need to be able to stretch and squeeze and cells in your eye can detect light. 

Clinical research / trial

The process of testing how a new treatment, device or test works in real people is called clinical research. Clinical trials are the only way to find out for sure if a new drug is safe, for example, or has side effects, and works better than other drugs that are currently available.

See Clinical research in type 1 diabetes for more information.

Closed loop / closing the loop

These terms are used in reference to the JDRF Artificial Pancreas project. People who use both a CGM and an insulin pump can be said to use an ‘open loop’ system. This is because while the CGM can detect changes to glucose levels induced by changing doses of insulin from the insulin pump, the CGM cannot ‘talk’ to the insulin pump and tell it how to respond to this information – the person with diabetes has to bridge this gap by making their own manual adjustments. By developing an artificial pancreas we aim to close this loop, allowing the devices to talk to each other without the need for human intervention.

Also see the Artificial Pancreas section on our website. 

Complications

Possible complications of type 1 diabetes include eye disease, nerve damage, kidney disease, heart disease and stroke. To help people who are currently living with type 1 diabetes, a significant part of JDRF’s research is focused on understanding how type 1 diabetes causes complications, and developing drugs, treatments and therapies to stop or reverse the impact of these complications. 

We know that being able to control your blood glucose level as tightly as possible can help to reduce the risk of diabetes-related complications – in fact achieving a drop in HbA1c of just 10% can reduce your risk of developing complications by as much as 40%.

  • Nephropathy
    Refers to damage or disease of the kidney
  • Neuropathy
    Refers to damage to nerves
  • Retinopathy
    Refers to damage of the eye.

See our research programme on treating type 1 diabetes for more information.

Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM)

A CGM automatically measures blood glucose levels at set intervals. It will usually consist of a small disposable sensor placed under the skin, a non-implanted transmitter attached to it, and a separate electronic receiver. Sensors need to be changed every few days.  

Continuous subcutaneous insulin infusion (CSII) 

(see Insulin pump therapy)

Control(s)

For a clinical trial to be fair, it needs to compare the effect of a new treatment or device with people that are not receiving the treatment or using the device. These people are called 'controls'. To make a clinical trial even more accurate, the controls are usually given a placebo so that they behave as similarly as possible to the people who are receiving the treatment.  

D

D-GAP

One of the key Immune Therapies projects in the UK is the JDRF Centre for Diabetes – Genes, Autoimmunity and Prevention (known as D-GAP for short) led by Professor Mark Peakman.

By bringing together some of the UK’s leading type 1 diabetes researchers, this project hopes to unravel the connection between genes, the immune response and type 1 diabetes. If a link can be established, it will greatly improve the understanding of how type 1 diabetes develops and pave the way for developments in treatments and therapies.

Read our interview with Professor Mark Peakman (pdf download)

DNA (Deoxyribonucleic acid)

This is a type of molecule that contains your genetic code within its structure. DNA molecules are made of repeating sequences unique to each person that act as blueprints for building all the components of your cells. Your genes are made of DNA. 

E

Epidemiology 

This is the study of big groups of people - populations - looking for patterns and trends in health and illness. See Types of research for more information.

G

Gene 

An inheritable region of your genetic code, made of DNA, associated with the instructions for a specific function or trait. Different versions - called alleles - of a gene result in variations such as eye colour. 

Genetic code 

The name for your body's instruction manual. It is encoded in molecules of DNA, which can be separated into sections called genes. Each gene is like a chapter of the instruction manual, providing information to build parts of your body.    

Genetics

The science of genes, including their structure and function. 

Glucagon

A hormone secreted by the alpha cells in the pancreas. In the body all hormones come in pairs, and glucagon is the ‘pair hormone’ for insulin. Whereas insulin works to reduce the level of glucose in the blood, glucagon increases it. In someone without diabetes the two hormones are in balance. Glucagon stimulates extra glucose to be released by the liver when we need more energy, such as during exercise, while insulin encourages liver, muscle and fat cells to take glucose out of the blood and store the energy for when it is needed.

Glycogen

The form in which most glucose is stored in the body. It is primarily made by the liver and muscles. The hormone glucagon prompts the liver to convert stored glycogen into glucose, which is released into the blood. 

Glucose

A simple form of sugar which your body uses as fuel. Carbohydrates that you eat, such as rice, potatoes, bread, and sugary foods are broken down into glucose during digestion. Glucose is a particularly important energy source for the brain. 

H

HbA1c (Also known as glycated haemoglobin A1c

Haemoglobin is the molecule in red blood cells that binds with oxygen in the lungs, allowing the blood to transport oxygen around the body. During the average 120-day lifespan of a red blood cell, glucose molecules in the bloodstream react with haemoglobin, forming glycated haemoglobin. Measuring the levels of glycated haemoglobin therefore indicates the amount of glucose the blood cell has been exposed to during its lifecycle. So an HbA1c measurement tells us the average blood glucose level over the previous four weeks to three months. 

HbA1c will soon be measured only in mmol / mol, and not as a percentage. Read more here (PDF). 

Hyperglycaemia

High blood glucose level. Usually higher than 10 mmol/L (180 mg/Dl)

Hypoglycaemia

Low blood glucose level. Usually below 4 mmol/L (72 mg/DL)

I

Immune response

This refers to how the immune system recognises and responds to foreign pathogens like bacteria and viruses. In type 1 diabetes, an unwanted immune response causes the insulin-producing beta cells to be destroyed by the immune system. 

Immune system

This is the name given to all the different processes and parts of your body that are involved in protecting you against infections and disease. In type 1 diabetes, something has gone wrong with your immune system so it mistakenly attacks your insulin-producing cells.

Some parts of your immune system try and stop germs and bacteria entering your body in the first place. But the most important part of your immune system deals with germs that have already entered your body. And this happens in your blood.

Your blood is mostly made of red blood cells which deliver oxygen around the body (there are so many your blood looks red), but blood also has white blood cells. These cells are your immune system’s army giving you constant protection from invaders like bacteria and viruses. 

Like a real army, different white blood cells have different jobs to do. Some of the most important white blood cells are the B cells and the T cells

B cells are the brains behind your immune system. They make substances called antibodies which are used by the immune system to identify potential enemies. Each antibody recognises something different, so the B cell has a busy job to do as there are billions of different bugs and viruses.

Once an enemy has been identified, the T cells – the soldiers of the immune system – will be recruited to attack and destroy it. 

Insulin pump / insulin pump therapy (also called continuous subcutaneous insulin infusion or CSII)

An insulin pump is a device used for administering insulin. It consists of an electronic pump and control unit, a reservoir or cartridge of insulin, and a tube leading to a disposable cannula inserted into the skin. An insulin pump delivers a low basal dose of fast-acting insulin continuously throughout the day. Bolus doses are administered by the user at mealtimes and to correct glucose levels. 

Intensive insulin therapy (also called flexible insulin therapy)

Intensive insulin therapy is way of managing diabetes that aims to more closely mimic the action of the pancreas. It contrasts with older methods of managing type 1 that used only 2-3 insulin injections per day and required rigid eating and activity schedules.

Intensive (or flexible) insulin therapy requires frequent checking of blood glucose and adjustment of insulin doses to compensate for food intake. Multiple daily injections (MDI) or an insulin pump are both forms of intensive insulin therapy. They use a longer-acting 'basal' insulin dose accompanied by fast-acting 'bolus' doses at mealtimes. 

Islets of Langerhans / Islet cells

The islets of Langerhans is a cluster of cells in the pancreas that secretes hormones. It contains the insulin-producing beta cells and glucagon-producing alpha cells. 

K

Ketones

Ketones, or ketone bodies, are produced when fats are broken down for energy, instead of glucose. In someone with type 1 diabetes without enough insulin, ketones can build up in the blood and cause a potentially fatal condition called diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA).

L

LADA (latent autoimmune diabetes of adults)

This is a relatively new term that refers to a slowly developing type 1 diabetes that is diagnosed in adults.

This form of type diabetes is usually non-insulin dependent at first, but normally progresses to insulin dependence, requiring injections. The term is not widely used amongst diabetes experts, because the rate at which beta cells are destroyed – leading to type 1 diabetes – is known to be quite variable between different people. People with this form of diabetes are often misdiagnosed as having type 2 diabetes because they will have similar symptoms at first. They may be treated with tablets, but will usually progress to needing insulin injections. 

Low blood sugar 

(see Hypoglycaemia)

M

MODY (Maturity-Onset Diabetes of the Young)

MODY is a term that has been in use since the 1960s but its meaning has been refined and narrowed as our understanding of diabetes has improved. You may hear people refer to MODY 1, MODY 2, MODY 3 – even up to MODY 9.

Whilst type 1 diabetes is caused by a complicated mix of different genes and environmental factors, the different types of MODY are each caused by a defect in just one gene. It is therefore called ‘monogenic’ (this literally means one gene). Neonatal diabetes is also a monogenic form of diabetes and is often studied alongside MODY. 

MODY can cause symptoms similar to type 1 diabetes, including increased thirst and tiredness. However the severity of symptoms varies and some people will experience no symptoms at all, but may have raised blood glucose levels. Generally, people with MODY will still produce some insulin, and will not show significant insulin resistance – distinguishing them from type 1 or type 2 diabetes. 

Treatments can include changes in diet, oral medication or insulin injections. Treatment will vary depending on the person, and type of MODY.  

MODY does not just affect young people. Older people with MODY may be misdiagnosed as having type 2 diabetes. 

N

Nanotechnology

This is scientific research or engineering at an atomic or molecular scale. One nanometer (nm) is one billionth of a meter. Much of the research focuses on developing unique materials or devices. Potential applications for nanotechnology in medicine include creating tiny machines that can travel around inside blood vessels, or for manipulating bacteria and viruses. 

Neonatal diabetes

Neonatal diabetes is a form of diabetes diagnosed in infants under the age of six months who  do not produce enough insulin, leading to an increase in blood glucose. It is quite different from type 1 diabetes as it does not involve the destruction of beta cells by the immune system.

It occurs in only one in 100,000 to 500,000 births. Most babies diagnosed with neonatal diabetes do not grow well in the womb and are much smaller at birth. Neonatal diabetes is often mistaken for the much more common type 1 diabetes. However, whilst type 1 diabetes is caused by a complicated mix of different genes and environmental factors, neonatal diabetes is caused by a defect in just one gene. It is therefore called ‘monogenic’ (this literally means one gene) diabetes. 

For about half of those affected the condition lasts a lifetime, and is called permanent neonatal diabetes. For the rest of those with neonatal diabetes, the condition is temporary, but may reoccur in adulthood. 

Nephropathy 

(see Complications)

Neuropathy 

(see Complications)

NOD mouse

This is a breed of mouse that is used in laboratory experiments because it serves as a good model for type 1 diabetes in humans. This breed of mouse was developed by selective breeding in the 1980s.

Type 1 researchers have been very fortunate to have such a good non-human model of type 1 diabetes on which to carry out their research. It has allowed them to test prevention and treatment strategies for type 1 diabetes before deciding if they should be tested on humans, which is much more difficult and expensive. There are, of course, unavoidable differences between mice and humans which need to be considered by scientists when carrying out research.

P

Pancreas

This organ in the body is part of the digestive system. It is located near the stomach and the liver. The pancreas has two roles:  

  • To produce digestive enzymes which are used in the small intestine to break food down into small molecules that can be used by the body for energy or building new tissues (this is called the exocrine function of the pancreas) 
  • To produce metabolic hormones including insulin, glucagon, and somatostatin (this is called the endocrine function of the pancreas). 

Most of the pancreas is taken up with the part that produces digestive enzymes, but it also contains small clusters of cells called the Islets of Langerhans, which contain the endocrine cells. 

Peer review

This is a way in which scientific research, and research grant applications are reviewed by other experts working in the same field. This helps ensure the highest standards of research, credibility and quality.  

Phase 1 trial

The process of testing how a new treatment, device or test works in real people is called clinical research. Clinical trials are the only way to find out for sure if a new drug is safe, for example, or has side effects, and works better than other drugs that are currently available.

Phase 1 trials are usually very small, involving only a few people. These are the earliest tests of a new treatment in people. They aim to find out the safe dose to give and if there are any side effects.

Phase 2 trial

Once a phase 1 trial has shown that a new treatment or test is safe, a phase 2 trial can start and investigate whether it is effective. They also tell doctors more about the best dose to give, possible side effects and how to manage them.

Phase 3 trial

Phase 3 trials are often very large. They are designed to test a new treatment against the current standard treatment. If a phase 3 trial shows that the new treatment gives better results, it may become the new standard treatment. These studies are often randomised.

Read more about clinical research in type 1 diabetes

PhD

This is a type of advanced degree awarded by universities. Students will normally have already completed a first degree and are required to produce a thesis or dissertation consisting of original academic research. People awarded a PhD can use the title 'Doctor'. 

R

Regeneration

Re-growing insulin-producing beta cells in people with type 1 diabetes. 

Research pathway

Together with the world’s leading type 1 diabetes experts and people living with the condition, JDRF has identified four areas of research that we believe will accelerate that search. These areas of focus are called research pathways. They are:

  • Immune therapies
  • Beta cell therapies
  • Complications therapies
  • Glucose control therapies

For more informatiom on these areas of research please visit Overview of research programme.

Retinopathy

A general term for damage to the eye or eye disease. Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes that can cause blindness. 

S

Smart insulin

A form of insulin currently being developed that would be able to respond to changing glucose levels throughout the day, ensuring the right amount of insulin is available to the body at all times. JDRF reported on the development of 'smart' insulin in December 2010 and November 2008. 

Stem cells Human embryonic stem cells

Stem cells are a special type of cell that haven’t yet been given instructions telling them which type of cell they should be, like blank pages of a book. When new cells are needed in the body, stem cells have the ability to turn quickly into the exact type of cell needed. Scientists hope to harness this ability to create cures and treatments for diseases where specific cells have been damaged, like type 1 diabetes. 

T

T cells 

(see Immune system)

Translational research

This aims to take findings from laboratory research and work out how to turn them into usable drugs, treatments or devices. Learn more about translational research in type 1 diabetes.

TrialNet

An international network of researchers who exploring ways to prevent, delay and reverse the progression of type 1 diabetes. TrialNet is running clinical trials with researchers in the United States, Canada, Finland, United Kingdom, Italy, Germany, Australia and New Zealand. There are trials for people newly diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, as well as for relatives of people with type 1 diabetes who are at greater risk of developing the disease.

For more information visit the TrialNet website

Twin study

Research studies comparing (usually identical) twins to understand more about the role of genes and the environment in disease and behaviour. Put simply, as twins share nearly 100% of their genes, any other differences can be attributed to other factors. 

Type 1 diabetes 

This is caused by the immune system attacking the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas, meaning that the body cannot regulate blood glucose levels on its own. People with type 1 diabetes need to test their blood glucose levels and administer insulin on a daily basis, just to stay alive. Learn more about type 1 diabetes. 

Type 2 diabetes

This is caused by a combination of lifestyle factors and genes. It is characterised by insulin resistance or a lack of insulin being produced, causing high blood glucose levels. It is not an autoimmune disease like type 1 diabetes. Risk factors include a high-fat diet, high cholesterol, and a less active lifestyle. 

W

White blood cell 

(see Immune system)