Cure for Diabetes?
Injected genes bypass beta cells to produce insulin in animal study
Diabetes is a devastating disease that is remarkably widespread. It leads to uncontrolled levels of sugar in the bloodstream because of the failure of beta cells in the pancreas.
Pancreatic beta cells produce insulin, which controls blood sugar levels. There are two types of diabetes: in type 1, the beta cells are killed by an autoimmune disease process. In type 2, obesity, lifestyle and diet combine to cause the beta cells to falter and produce insufficient insulin, leading again to unregulated levels of blood sugar. People only exhibit symptoms of diabetes when they have lost 80 percent of their beta cells.
Diabetes obliterates small blood vessels, leading to reduced or lost sensations and reduced or lost ability to heal from injuries. This, in turn, leads to ulcerated feet or legs and the need for amputations. Finally, diabetes can cause blindness.
Diabetes is very prevalent: 9.3 percent of the population is diabetic, including 8.1 million undiagnosed cases. Among seniors, 25.9 percent are diabetic, and an astonishing 86 million Americans are pre-diabetic, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
As Angela Daley, writing in News.com.au, explained, a breakthrough technology could eliminate type 1 diabetes and make painful insulin injections a thing of the past. “The study bypasses the autoimmune system by altering other pancreatic cells so they can co-exist with immune defenses – mimicking the behavior of the body’s beta cells.”
Now, according to Will Sansom, writing in Medical Xpress, researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio may have discovered a cure for type 1 diabetes. They have used viruses as a vector or carrier to inject genes that cause insulin production in pancreatic cells other than beta cells, in mice. Autoimmune problems were avoided by targeting these non-beta cells for transformation, cells which the autoimmune disease leaves alone. The virus-altered cells successfully made insulin in the presence of glucose.
The technique of virus-borne genetic alteration has already been accepted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration several times. New studies on bigger test animals will be done before human trials take place in three years.
Ralph DeFronzo, M.D., chief of the diabetic division at UT Health Sciences Center, said, “The pancreas has many other cell types besides beta cells, and our approach is to alter these cells so that they start to secrete insulin, but only in response to glucose. This is basically just like beta cells.”
Bruno Doiron, Ph.D., co-inventor of the process, added, “It worked perfectly. We used mice for one year without any side effects. If a type 1 diabetic has been living with these cells for 30, 40 or 50 years, and all you’re getting them to do is secrete insulin, we expect there to be no adverse immune response.”
He added, “The gene transfer we propose is remarkable because the altered cells match the characteristics of beta cells. Insulin is only released in response to glucose. We don’t need to replicate all the insulin-making functions of beta cells. Only 20 percent restoration of the capacity is sufficient for a cure of type 1.”