Recently, scientists from Harvard University and MIT have shown that it is possible to ‘cure’ diabetes for long periods of time without the need for pancreatic islet transplants.
This novel ‘cure’ is based on a method for mass-producing insulin-secreting beta cells discovered by Harvard University in 2014, but has only now been tested on animals. When these cells were transplanted into mice, it was found that the disease ‘switched off’ for 6 months, which if implemented into humans could potentially delay diabetes for several years.
With this breakthrough, daily insulin injections could become but a distant memory for the 400,000 or so type 1 diabetics in the UK, finally giving them the freedom to eat what they want without constantly worrying about their blood sugar levels.
However, it is likely that it will take several years for human trials to take place, and will be even longer for the therapy to be implemented outside of clinical trials. Still, it is encouraging to see that progress is being made in realising a cure for diabetes mellitus.
Sources: Harvard and MIT close to ‘cure’ for Type 1 diabetes which will end daily injections
Cure for Type 1 diabetes imminent after Harvard stem-cell breakthrough; both from telegraph.co.uk, by Sarah Knapton
From nothing to a fully functioning pancreas. For most diabetics this is but a distant dream- while some may be able to get a pancreatic islet transplant, the closest the majority of people suffering diabetes mellitus will get to independence from their condition is an insulin pump.
However, a team from the Diabetes Research Institute in Miami Florida found that bone proteins “used to help bones mend” can also force cells in the pancreas to produce insulin, instead of the missing beta cells that typically make this hormone in non-diabetics. What this will mean for diabetics like me, is that they will not have to do regular injections as to keep their blood sugar levels in check, just like non-diabetics.
In this form of therapy, non-beta cells in the pancreas are exposed to “a growth factor called BMP-7” that transforms them into insulin-producing cells. This method was tested on diabetic mice whose “beta cells had been destroyed artificially with a chemical”, and the therapy led to these cells behaving just like healthy insulin-producing beta cells. However, this has not yet been tested on humans, so it is yet to be seen if it will work. Nonetheless, it is very encouraging to see that a great variety of potential cures are being developed to combat this condition which blights approximately 40 million people worldwide.
Source: Diabetic pancreas cells made to produce insulin by bone protein from newscientist.co.uk, by Andy Coghlan.
As anyone who has diabetes type 1 knows all too well, this disease, as manageable as it is, requires almost constant attention, which can at times be tiring. One person that understands this very well is child psychologist Mary Rooney, who was only diagnosed in 2011 with diabetes mellitus, and recently had groundbreaking therapy which she said had “freed her from the daily grind” of managing her condition.
This new therapy developed by researchers at the University of California and Yale involves taking “peacekeeping” T-reg cells that “protect insulin-making cells from the immune system” from patients, replicating them in a growth medium and finally infusing them back into the blood. In the initial trial of 14 people carried out by these researchers, it was found that the “the therapy is safe, and can last up to a year”, showing that it is possible to turn back the clock on the body destroying its own insulin-secreting cells in the pancreas. Moreover, this therapy could be used in combination with “an independent source of insulin producing cells” to completely control the condition, according to Professor Bluestone from the University of California.
Finally, this latest development in finding a cure for diabetes mellitus could also lead to cures for other autoimmune diseases such as “rheumatoid arthritis and lupus”, and could possibly even help cure neurological diseases.
Source: End of daily injections for diabetes as scientists restore insulin production from telegraph.co.uk, by Sara Knapton
Last week a team from the Catholic University of Louvain (UCL) in Belgium reported their findings on a novel way of potentially curing diabetes that involves taking pancreatic cells and genetically modifying them as to coerce them into secreting insulin, thus countering the loss of insulin production typically seen in diabetics.
The method involves taking “pancreatic duct cells from dead donors”, which “don’t normally produce insulin”, but can “differentiate into specific cell types”. This feature has been harnessed by this team as to produce insulin by adding a “genetic switch” to change their behaviour. These cells were then implanted into diabetic mice, and were found to produce insulin.
However, this cure is still in early development, and we will have to see if these cells can be used in humans as well.
Source: New Scientist, edition no. 3042, ‘In Brief’ section- ‘Reboot insulin cells to treat diabetes’
A team has recently engineered a bacterium to make intestinal cells behave like pancreatic cells, causing them to produce insulin and consequently decrease blood sugar levels. In the latest study, rats where fed this chemical, and it was found to trigger certain cells in the gut to behave like pancreatic cells. Moreover, this bacterium, which can be found in some probiotic yoghurts, does not have to be injected to work properly and it could even potentially be taken in the form of a pill; also it has not been shown to affect the cells’ normal functions, meaning it should be absolutely safe to use.
This cure appears to have potential, and it would be marvellous if it could become the cure for type 1 diabetes. However, at this moment it has only been shown to “replace ∼25–33% of the insulin capacity of non-diabetic healthy rats”, and it is still in development so it may take many years for this to be widely available.
New Scientist, edition no. 3008, ’60 Seconds’ section- ‘Bugs tackle diabetes’
Diabetes Journals – http://diabetes.diabetesjournals.org/content/early/2015/01/27/db14-0635#corresp-1
While there are many potential permanent cures for diabetes type 1, some scientists are developing better ways of controlling the blood sugar levels in diabetic patients. Ed Diamano, a biomedical engineer whose son was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 11 months, has created “a digital pancreas that automatically regulates sugar levels in the blood via a smartphone”. The user has a glucose monitor underneath their skin, which measures the glucose levels every 5 minutes and sends a signal to an iPhone app that calculates the amount of insulin that is required to balance the blood sugar. The app then sends a signal to insulin pumps carried by the diabetic to administer the dose via a catheter. While this system cannot cure diabetes, it can give diabetics a rest from keeping their blood glucose levels in check and can give them a glimpse of a life without diabetes.
Moreover, this system has been tested out on both adults and young people: in one study, 20 adults wore the device for five days in a hotel, while in another study thirty-two young people, aged between 12 and 20, tested the device at a camp for diabetic children for five days, and the device performed incredibly well in controlling the participants’ blood sugar levels.
Overall, I believe that this new device might be a good solution for people with type 1 diabetes while they are waiting for a permanent cure.
Who would have thought that edible oyster mushrooms could potentially hold the way to prevent immune cells in humans from attacking other cells in the body? Recently it has been discovered that these mushrooms use a special type of immune system proteins to pierce into parasites and prey- this finding could help us to fight diseases due to the fact that we and pathogens carry similar proteins.
Although most fungi are quite peaceful, a “small number are able to kill nematode worms and insects”. One of these fungi, the carnivorous oyster mushroom, produces toxins which contain the pleurotolysin protein; individual molecules of this protein “can act like Lego bricks, linking together in rings of 13 on the surface of a cell”. These molecules can punch through “the cell membrane like a nanoscopic cookie cutter, creating an 8-nanometre-wide hole and killing the cell”. It was found that a segment called TMH-2 was vital for the process of punching through the cell membrane; this could potentially be used for “manipulating the human version, perforin… to stop immune cells from attacking our own cells and triggering autoimmune conditions”.
Although this method is far from being implemented in real life, I hope that some day it could be used to stop the loss of insulin cells and other vital cells in the body that are killed in different autoimmune diseases.