New hope for an end to diabetes injections
A cure for type 1 diabetes is closer than ever after scientists showed they can switch off the disease for six months in animals, which would equate to several years in humans.
Researchers at Harvard University discovered how to make huge quantities of insulin-producing cells less than two years ago, in a breakthrough seen as being as significant as antibiotics.
Now a team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has proven that planting the cells into mice can completely restore insulin function for a significant time.
They hope to try the treatment on humans in the next two years.
It could mean the end of daily insulin injections for millions of people living with type 1 diabetes. They would only need a transfusion of engineered cells every few years.
"We are excited by these results and are working hard to advance this technology to the clinic," said Daniel Anderson, professor of applied biology at MIT.
He said he was hopeful that the device to transplant the insulin-producing cells could be used without suppressing the immune system.
"We continue to work hard on this problem," he added.
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition that causes the pancreas to stop producing insulin, the hormone that regulates blood glucose levels. If there is too much glucose in the blood, it can seriously damage the body's organs over time.
While diabetics can keep their glucose levels under general control by injecting insulin, that does not provide the fine tuning necessary to properly control metabolism, which can lead to devastating complications such as blindness or loss of limbs.
About 10% of all diabetes is type 1, but it is the most common type of childhood diabetes.
The team at Harvard used embryonic stem cells to produce human insulin-producing cells equivalent in almost every way to normally functioning cells.
When implanted in mice, the cells immediately began producing insulin and were able to maintain blood glucose within a healthy range for 174 days.