Diabetes mellitus is a disease characterized by an inability to make or use the hormone insulin. Insulin is needed by cells to metabolize glucose, the body's main source of chemical energy. Type I diabetes, also called insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, is usually caused by an autoimmune destruction of insulin-producing cells. Type II diabetes, also called non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, occurs when cells become resistant to the effects of insulin.
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Diabetes mellitus actually means "sweet urine". It may shock you that, in fact, in the old days the way this diagnosis was made was by a quick little sample of the taste, and distinguished diabetes mellitus from diabetes insipidus, which was tasteless urine, which was a different problem in the pituitary. Oh well. A little historical note shouldn't distract from the importance of this disease. There's a Type 1, which affects kids, which is really an autoimmune disease, and a Type 2, which is much more common, affecting an increasing number of adults, because it's very much associated with environment and particularly with a diet, and gaining weight, and lack of exercise; all the things that are so characteristics of our current Western civilization...a major disease in terms of its impact on people, its contribution to suffering, and medical expense.
Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D.
Director, National Institutes of Health; Former Director, National Human Genome Research Institute
Dr. Francis S. Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, is noted for his landmark discoveries of disease genes and his visionary leadership of the Human Genome Project, a complex multidisciplinary scientific enterprise directed at mapping and sequencing human DNA. Dr. Collins was the director of the National Human Genome Research Institute from 1993 to 2008. His research has led to the identification of genetic variants associated with type 2 diabetes and the genes responsible for cystic fibrosis, neurofibromatosis, Huntington's disease and Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome. In 2007, Dr. Collins received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civil award, for his revolutionary contributions to genetic research.