Two scientists from UT Health San Antonio claim to have discovered a way to develop a cure for diabetes. Dr. Bruno Doiron and Dr. Ralph DeFronzo say that their method might no longer make insulin shots necessary. They used gene transfer to trigger insulin production in mice and managed to cure them from type 1 diabetes. Now, they hope they can apply the same method to humans as well.
Making pancreas genes produce insulin
This gene transfer technique is a way to genetically engineer the cells to produce insulin. More precisely, they used a virus which carried genetically modified genes to the pancreas. Once these genes reached the organ, they spread in it, and made other cells produce insulin.
Insulin is produced by beta cells found in the pancreas. However, type 1 diabetes is characterized by the fact that beta cells are ‘disabled’ by the immune system, so they cannot produce the substance which keeps blood sugar under control. This method is revolutionary, since it made other types of cells capable of producing insulin.
The mice were cured of diabetes
The experiment was successful, as mice were cured and experienced no side effects. However, a mouse model is different from a human model. The next step is to test this model on larger animals, which are more similar to humans from a physiological point of view.
Nevertheless, researchers are optimistic. Type 1 diabetes is characterized by the rejection of beta cells, but this method involves no beta cells and has other pancreatic cells take the role of producing insulin. Therefore, the immune system should not attack these cells as well.
The preparations for future experiments are going well. Next, they will focus on larger animals, and the trials on human patients should start in about three years. A company has already offered to commercialize the cure, after it is properly tested and developed.
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