Ironing Out Diabetes

What if we could remotely influence insulin production? Recently it was found out that genetically modified mice can respond to radio signals by releasing insulin, thus decreasing blood sugar levels. This method is based on the fact that iron particles, “which can absorb energy from radio waves of the right frequency”, can change the behaviour of cells when the correct radio signal is sent. This concept was put to the test by introducing “three genes into mouse liver cells. One encoded an iron-containing protein called ferritin”, which was put next to a protein which allows calcium to surge into the cell whenever the right radio signal was sent to ferritin, while “the third gene coded for insulin but was active only when there was a flood of calcium”. This set up meant that when ferritin was exposed to the correct frequency radio waves, the levels of insulin in the mice rose; “the engineered mice showed a significant drop in blood glucose for several hours after being exposed to the radio signal”.

Moreover, this method could also be potentially used for curing many other chronic diseases such as haemophilia. However, it is possible that there may occur some dangerous side effects, although Jeffrey Friedman of Rockefeller University in New York, a member of the team behind the research, says that to avoid this, “implanted stem cells could be given a ‘suicide gene’ that can be activated to kill them off if they start causing dangerous side effects”. Like many other potential cures, we will have to wait and see if this idea truly lifts off, but it is still very good to see that progress is being made to find cures for diabetes type 1. However, a cure for type 1 diabetes could not be just beneficial for diabetics: it is very likely that similar methods could be used to help people with other chronic diseases.

Source: New Scientist Volume issue no. 3000, ‘Point and zap to iron out diabetes’ by Clare Wilson


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