Objective: Although impairment in pancreatic insulin secretion is known to precede the clinical diagnosis of type 2 diabetes by up to a decade, fasting blood glucose concentration only rises abnormally once the impairment reaches a critical threshold. Despite its centrality to the pathogenesis of type 2 diabetes, the pancreas is the least studied organ due to its inaccessible anatomical position. Previous ultrasound and CT studies have suggested a possible decrease in pancreatic volume in type 2 diabetes. However, ultrasound techniques are relatively insensitive while CT uses ionizing radiation, making these modalities unsuitable for precise, longitudinal studies designed to explore the underlying mechanisms of type 2 diabetes. Hence there is a need to develop a non-invasive, safe and precise method to quantitate pancreas volume.
Methods: We developed and applied magnetic resonance imaging at 3.0T to obtain balanced turbo field echo (BTFE) structural images of the pancreas, together with 3-point Dixon images to quantify pancreatic triglyceride content. Pancreas volume, morphology and triglyceride content was quantified in a group of 41 subjects with well-controlled type 2 diabetes (HbA1c ≤ 7.6%) taking only metformin (duration of T2DM 5.7 ± 0.7 years), and a control group of 14 normal glucose tolerance subjects matched for age, weight and sex.
Results: The mean pancreatic volume was found to be 33% less in type 2 diabetes than in normal glucose tolerant subjects (55.5 ± 2.8 vs. 82.6 ± 4.8 cm3; p < 0.0001). Pancreas volume was positively correlated with HOMA-β in the type 2 diabetes subjects (r = 0.31; p = 0.03) and controls (r = 0.46; p = 0.05) considered separately; and in the whole population studied (r = 0.37; p = 0.003). In type 2 diabetes, the pancreas was typically involuted with a serrated border. Pancreatic triglyceride content was 23% greater (5.4 ± 0.3 vs. 4.4 ± 0.4%; p = 0.02) in the type 2 diabetes group.
Conclusion: This study describes for the first time gross abnormalities of the pancreas in early type 2 diabetes and quantifies the decrease in pancreas size, the irregular morphology and increase in fat content.