Doctor Tests Brain Surgery To Treat Diabetes

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Type II diabetes, a condition where your body doesn't process carbohydrates and sugars properly, affects millions of Americans.

It's typically treated with diet, exercise and medication. So when a local neurosurgeon thinks he's on to a surgical cure, it could be a big deal.

Could blood vessels in the brain be related to Type II diabetes? It sounds unlikely because diabetes is a gland disorder involving insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas nowhere near the brain.

But a study led by a local neurosurgeon suggests that pressure from blood vessels on a certain nerve could be a factor. This nerve comes off the brain stem and controls automatic functions of the body, like hormone release from the pancreas.

"We're developing new paradigms," Allegheny General Hospital Neurosurgeon Dr. Peter Janetta said about the skepticism. "This is probably not a sugar problem and I find that fascinating."

In an earlier preliminary series when he did a surgical procedure to relieve brain stem nerve pressure from blood vessels for other reasons, there was improvement in blood sugars. "Fifteen patients and nine really got better," he says.

His team decided to do new, specific research into this. "I got really interested in it and we got some money from Highmark to do a study. If it worked well, 10 patients would do it, and we should do patients just for the diabetes. We operated on them and we had no complications."

Neurosurgeons moved an artery pressing on the right vagus nerve, which in the body goes to the pancreas. The patients were followed for a year and seven had improvement in their blood sugars.

The patients who didn't respond had a body mass index in the obese range. Responders tended to be just overweight.

"Now, what happens if you're obese and you lose weight? Will the operation help? That's one of the hundred questions I have which are really the next level of fun here," says Dr. Janetta.

If it sounds too good to be true, keep in mind, this was a series of only 10 patients. A lot more research needs to be done before we'll know if this actually leads to new medications and better operations that work. The report is in the journal "Surgical Neurology International."
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