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Scientists Successfully Cured Diabetes in Mouse Models -- Could Humans Be Next?

May 06, 2017 09:24 AM EDT
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Aside from totally curing type 1 diabetes, the new treatment could also allow patients with type 2 diabetes to discontinue their ise of insulin shots.
(Photo : Scott Olson/Getty Images)

A team of researchers from the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio has successfully developed a new method that's capable of curing diabetes in mouse models.

The new method, described in a paper published in the journal Current Pharmaceutical Biotechnology, works by increasing certain types of pancreatic cells that secrete insulin. Aside from totally curing type 1 diabetes, the new treatment could also allow patients with type 2 diabetes to discontinue their use of insulin shots.

"It worked perfectly," said Bruno Doiron, Ph.D., an assistant professor of medicine at UT Health and co-inventor of the new method, in a press release. "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."

For the new treatment method, the researchers utilized a technique known as gene transfer. Using a virus as a vector, the researchers introduced selected genes into the pancreas. These genes incorporate themselves into enzymes and other cell types, forcing them to secrete insulin.

Normally, insulin can only be made from so-called beta cells. In type 1 diabetes, the immune system destroys the beta cells, making the person unable to produce insulin. On the other hand, patients with type 2 diabetes have defective beta cells that do not produce insulin efficiently. When beta cells die or fail, the level of insulin in the body decreases.

Basically, the new treatment alters different cells in the pancreas so that they could also secrete insulin in response to glucose, just like beta cells. Using the new therapy, the researchers were able to regulate the blood sugar of their mouse models.

The researchers noted that symptoms of diabetes could only present if about 80 percent of beta cells in the patient's pancreas were lost. They observed that it is not necessary to bring back or replicate all of the insulin-making function of beta cells. Restoring about 20 percent of the beta cells' capacity is enough to cure type 1 diabetes.

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