Stem Cell Breakthrough Could Put An End To Daily Insulin Injections For Diabetics

Stem Cell Breakthrough Could Put an End to Daily Insulin Injections for Diabetics

People with type 1 diabetes have to inject insulin daily, and it often results in pain, redness, swelling and itching at the injection site. But this could soon be a thing of the past, thanks to a new breakthrough that takes us one step closer to a functional cure for type 1 diabetes. Researchers at MIT and Harvard have used insulin-producing cells to restore insulin function in mice for an extended period. Back in 2014, the same group used stem cells to create insulin-producing beta cells in large quantities. Now, they have taken those mass-produced cells and transplanted them into mice, effectively switching off the disease for six months, without provoking an immune response. The details can now be found in the science journal Nature.

People with type 1 diabetes have a pancreas that's unable to produce insulin, a critical hormone that helps the body control glucose levels in the blood. Without insulin, this sugar builds up in the bloodstream instead of being channelled for energy. The exact cause of type 1 diabetes isn't known, but scientists think it has something to do with the body's immune system and the way it attacks cells that make insulin. (Type 1 diabetes is not caused by eating too much sugar.)

To create an effective therapy that doesn't rely on a steady stream of insulin injections, researchers at MIT, Harvard, Boston Children's Hospital and several other institutions, designed a material that encapsulated human pancreatic cells prior to transplant. Embryonic stem cells were used to generate the human insulin-producing cells, which were virtually identical to normal cells. After transplantation in mice, the cells began to produce insulin in response to blood glucose levels. This effectively cured the mice of their type 1 diabetes for a period of 174 days. In human terms, that's equivalent to several years.

Study co-author Daniel Anderson was quoted in MIT News as saying this approach "has the potential to provide diabetics with a new pancreas that is protected from the immune system, which would allow them to control their blood sugar without taking drugs". Human trials could start just a few years from now. If this process can be proven effective in humans, patients would need a transfusion every few years, rather than a daily insulin injection.


Top image: Arturo J. Vegas et al., 2016

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    I can see all of the businesses currently making money from Diabetes suffers being very unhappy about any breakthrough. They will do anything they can to stop any cure. Never mind the poor diabetics who suffer horrible complications and premature deaths. It's all about protecting profits and the jobs of many. Everyone knows that.

      Its a scary thought isnt it, keeping people sick for economics. I have trouble understanding that level of greed.

        Look at how the tobacco companies market smoking to kids (or that dick that raised the price of some life-saving drug by 5,000%) to see how low people can go.

      Not really. Who do you think would be manufacturing this new treatment?
      Also, this is likely to be much more expensive than treatment with insulin, incentivising drug companies to push the treatment over existing, cheaper ones.
      If anything it would be more in their best interests to cover up evidence suggesting it's either not safe or effective.

    We see these types of potential 'cure' stories a couple of times a year, yet in my 25 years of T1 diabetes I'm still injecting/pumping nor have I ever seen a journalist follow any up with a....

    "Whatever happened to that promising breakthrough that they announced x years ago!" To me this would be more interesting. Might even prove or disprove conspiracy theories as described in coldfoodbarf's reply.

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