According to a recent article published in The Guardian, scientists may have just moved closer to a cure for Type 1 diabetes, the form of the disease which destroys insulin cells in the pancreas. Formerly known as Juvenile Diabetes, Type 1 develops in childhood and leads to a lifetime dependency on insulin injections. Type 1 diabetes is responsible for roughly five percent of all diabetes cases in the U.S.
Without insulin, your body’s cells have a difficult time absorbing and utilizing blood sugars, the primary fuel for energy. Type 1 diabetes used to be fatal, but can now be controlled and monitored with regular insulin injections.
Researchers have for a long time targeted the damaged pancreas cells that normally produce insulin, but recently tried a new approach. They collected a specific type of skin cells from laboratory mice and treated and reprogrammed them so they became a type of stem cell. These cells are found in the early embryo and eventually mature into major organs, including the pancreas. The scientists then injected these stem cells into mice which had been genetically modified to have high glucose levels, mimicking the symptoms of Type 1 diabetes in humans.
“Just one week post-transplant, the animals’ glucose levels started to decrease, gradually approaching normal levels,” said Gladstone postdoctoral scholar Ke Li, the paper’s lead author. “And when we removed the transplanted cells, we saw an immediate glucose spike, revealing a direct link between the transplantation… and reduced hyperglycemia [high glucose level].” Eight weeks later, the scientists discovered that the stem cells had transformed into actual pancreas cells – fully functioning, and secreting insulin in the mice.
This research is what’s called a “proof of principle” and will be built upon to see if one day this technique might lead to a cure or treatment for type 1 diabetes. “I am particularly excited about the prospect of translating these findings to the human system,” said Matthias Hebrok, director of the UC San Francisco Diabetes Center. “Most immediately, this [research] could significantly advance our understanding of how inherent defects in cells result in diabetes, bringing us notably closer to a much-needed cure.”
PA Foot and Ankle Associates is proud to sponsor Carly Lenett, the Juvenile Ambassador for the ADA, in her fight against Type 1 Diabetes.