A recent scientific discovery made at UT Health San Antonio is expected to provide a potential cure for Type 1 diabetes and eliminate the need for insulin shots in Type 2 diabetic patients.
In Type 1 diabetes, the body undergoes a process where the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas are being destroyed by the immune system. The outcome of this is a higher than usual blood glucose level as destroying of the insulin hormone causes a serious effect on the regulation of blood glucose levels in the body.
As a means to finding a cure for Type 1 diabetes for the first time, researchers have previously considered the approach of replacing beta cells but that did not lend a cure to this date. The team at UT Health San Antonio attempted a rather new method of gene transfer where other pancreatic cells of the body were being manipulated into producing insulin. Fortunately, this gene transfer method might be the first stepping stone in curing humans with Type 1 diabetes as it successfully worked to cure Type 1 diabetes in mice.
Bruno Doiron who is the assistant professor of medicine at UT Health stated,
“It worked perfectly. We cured mice for one year without any side effects. That’s never been seen. But it’s a mouse model, so caution is needed. We want to bring this to large animals that are closer to humans in physiology of the endocrine system.”
The gene transfer method is done using the techniques of Cellular Networking, Integration and Processing where a virus is used in the form of a vector, or carrier, to introduce specific genes into the pancreas. As a result, these selected genes integrate to cause digestive enzymes and other cell types to produce insulin.
Dr. Ralph DeFronzo, chief of the Division of Diabetes at UT Health and co-inventor of this research mentioned, “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 [sugar]. This is basically just like beta cells.”
Since the production of insulin is completely halted in Type 1 diabetes due to the destruction of beta cells, the body rejects any further incorporation of beta cells into the body. Still, defenses of the immune system remain to coexist with other cell populations of the pancreas. This is what the researchers intended to do with the gene transfer approach and they successfully accomplished blood glucose regulation and long-term insulin secretion in mice.
Luckily, there were no side effects associated with this method as well. As quoted by DeFronzo, “If a Type 1 diabetic has been living with these cells for 30, 40 or 50 years, and all we’re getting them to do is secrete insulin, we expect there to be no adverse immune response.”
Another huge advantage of the gene transfer method is that Type 2 Diabetic Patients will no longer need to receive daily insulin shots. With insufficient quantity of insulin, the body is unable to use it effectively and its blood sugar levels are disrupted in Type 2 diabetes. Thus, such patients require daily insulin shots and other medications to tackle this disruption.
DeFronzo added, “Of course it’s a big step, from mice to man, but if we could achieve this, it would actually be a cure for Type 1 diabetes. For people with Type 2 diabetes, they wouldn’t have to take insulin shots anymore.”
The estimated cost of testing the gene transfer strategy on large-animal models is around $5 million. Within the next 3 years, the researchers will work on human clinical trials and are determined to accomplish successful results in humans as well.