GAINESVILLE, Fla. -

A new discovery by researchers at the University of Florida may provide a clue to why people develop type 1 diabetes.

Researchers say the size of your pancreas could be a risk factor for the disease.

Scientists examined the weight of pancreases from deceased organ donors including some who had been at high risk of developing type 1 diabetes. They found that the pancreas was about 50 percent smaller in people with type 1 diabetes.

Researchers also found that the weight of the pancreas was about 25 percent lighter in people who were at higher risk for developing the disease. 

Martha Campbell-Thompson, UF pathologist , says this may imply that a smaller pancreas may produce a smaller number of insulin producing beta cells. "Those cells produce the insulin that people need in order to process their glucose." She adds, "The lack of beta cells is what causes diabetes."

Type 1 diabetes, previously known as juvenile diabetes, is a chronic disease that mainly affects children and young adults. Researchers now want to know if people with type 1 diabetes are born with a smaller pancreas or if it is a side effect of the disease. 

The new findings provide important clues for researchers working on a cure for the disease.

"If this finding bears out in clinical studies, we have to look much earlier on in people who are at high risk," Campbell-Thompson says. "and look at ways we can boost their number of beta cells."