Sooner than you thought, diabetes type 1 and 2 may become history. A new potential cure is about to take its chances in San Antonio.
At The University of Texas Health Science Center, now called UT Health San Antonio, the scientists have discovered a gene transfer method which is used to increase the types of pancreatic cells that secrete insulin.
Their main goal is to gain access to clinical trials in a period which will be no longer than 3 years. To achieve this, they must enlarge the study to larger animals, which probably would cost about $5 million.
Then, the results will be subject to approval at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for Investigational New Drug (IND), as stated by one of the co-inventors, Bruno Doiron.
Until now, the scientists patented the technique in January and meanwhile, a process to begin commercialization, led by the UT Health San Antonio, is started and for now is in its early stages.
So far, this method was proven to be successful when applied on mice.
Here is what Dr. Doiron, assistant professor of medicine at UT Health, has to say about these amazing results: “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.”
Taking a valuable part in the project (as a co-inventor) is the professor of medicine and chief of the Division of Diabetes at UT Health, Ralph DeFronzo, M.D. Being one of the people to have direct access to the whole process, he describes the magic they created in one sentence :
“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.”
The main factor of lowering the blood sugar in our body is insulin. Insulin is made by beta cells. You should distinguish two types of diabetes and the way the body reacts to them: in Type 1 diabetes, the body doesn`t have insulin at all, because the beta cells were destroyed by its immune system; In the other hand, in type 2 diabetes, there is a reduction of the level of insulin because of the failure of beta cells, but at the same time, the body isn`t using insulin efficiently.
A gene transfer technique is used to stimulate the body to produce insulin again. To get the selected genes into the pancreas, as a carrier, researchers were using a virus. Further on, the genes got incorporated and started initiating digestive enzymes and other cell types to produce insulin.
This technique is well known to The U.S. Food & Drug Administration, as it is commonly used to treat other diseases, which were approved by this institution nearly 50 times before. The method is proven in treating rare childhood diseases too.
The body is a complex system, consisted of lots of different types of cell populations, and if we analyze the pancreas, which is significant to us for this case, we can make a conclusion that all of the cell populations of the pancreas co-exist with the body immune system, except for the beta cells, which are rejected by the organism in Type 1 diabetes.
“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,” says Dr. DeFronzo.
Second-by-second sugar control
This therapy managed to regulate the blood sugar in mice with big precision. This is a game-changing factor if we take in consideration that some of the medications that are currently used to treat diabetes can lower the blood sugar under the normal range, which is life-threatening, and on the other hand, this method can completely supplant the insulin therapy.
As Dr. Doiron stated: “A major problem we have in the field of Type 1 diabetes is hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). The gene transfer we propose is remarkable because the altered cells match the characteristics of beta cells. Insulin is only released in response to glucose.”
He also noted that people usually are not aware that they have diabetes, as their symptoms aren`t shown until they lose at least 80 percent of their beta cells.
“We don’t need to replicate all of the insulin-making function of beta cells,” he said. “Only 20 percent restoration of this capacity is sufficient for a cure of Type 1.”