Researchers have achieved a major breakthrough in the search for a cure for type 1 diabetes in humans. A team of scientists have been able to halt type 1 diabetes in mice for six months by implanting into the mice insulin-producing pancreatic beta cells generated in the laboratory from human embryonic stem cells. The cells were able to restore normal insulin function in mice, thus eliminating the need for daily injections of insulin.
The team of researchers, consisting of scientists from MIT, Harvard, and other institutions, announced in the journal Nature Medicine on Monday that they have successfully implanted mass-produced pancreatic beta cells into mice genetically bred to suffer type 1 diabetes.
The latest breakthrough follows the successful use of human embryonic stem cells in 2014 to create insulin-producing beta cells in large quantities in the laboratory.
Harvard’s Professor Doug Melton, who led the team that made the 2014 breakthrough, was also part of the team that achieved the latest breakthrough. He has been working on a cure for type 1 diabetes since his son Sam was diagnosed with the condition, according to the Daily Mail.
The researchers also announced they were able to prevent the cells from being rejected by the immune system of the mice. When the body’s immune system rejects transplanted cells, it attacks and destroys them, rendering them non-functional.
To prevent the immune system from attacking the implanted cells, the researchers designed a new material — an “alginate derivative” called triazole-thiomorpholine dioxide (TMTD) — that encapsulates (“envelopes” or “encloses”) the pancreatic islet cells and thus protects them from being attacked and destroyed by the body’s immune system.
The scientists reported that following the transplant of the TMTD-encapsulated pancreatic beta cells, the mice were able to produce insulin to regulate blood sugar levels at normal healthy ranges during the 174-day period of the study without requiring daily injections of insulin.
The procedure thus effectively cured the mice of their type 1 diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes is a condition in which the pancreas is unable to produce insulin, the hormone that helps to regulate glucose levels in the blood. It is thought that the condition is caused by genetic factors or the destruction of insulin-producing cells in the pancreas by an autoimmune reaction possibly triggered by viral infections.
Thus, people with type 1 diabetes need daily injections of insulin to prevent the build-up of sugar in their bloodstream. High blood sugar levels have a damaging effect on vital body organs, leading to cardiovascular ailments and damage to the kidneys, eyes, and nerves.
The latest breakthrough has been hailed as having the potential to provide a functional cure for type 1 diabetes. The only available therapy for type 1 diabetes for many years involves daily injections of insulin which causes patients significant discomfort.
Study co-author Daniel Anderson, an MIT professor of chemical engineering, said in a statement published on MIT News that the new procedure “has the potential to provide diabetics with a new pancreas that is protected from the immune system [and] which would allow them to control their blood sugar without taking drugs.”
He said that human trials would commence soon and that if the procedure proves successful in humans, type 1 diabetes patients would no longer require daily injections of insulin, but only booster transfusions of the pancreatic beta cells once in a few years.
“We are excited by these results, and are working hard to advance this technology to the clinic,” he added.
According to Julia Greenstein, the vice president of Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) which funded the study, “Encapsulation therapies have the potential to be groundbreaking for people with type 1 diabetes. These treatments aim to effectively establish long-term insulin independence and eliminate the daily burden of managing the disease for months, possibly years, at a time without the need for immune suppression.”
“JDRF is excited by these findings and we hope to see this research progress into human clinical trials and ultimately a potential new Type 1 diabetes therapy,” she added.
Type 1 diabetes affects about 1.25 million adults and children in the U.S.
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