Scientists may have discovered a method of treating type 1 diabetes that could mean the end of insulin injections. They say the treatment, having successfully cured mice of the disorder for six months and counting, is moving on to primate trials before testing is done on humans.
Using an injection of stem cells — which are able to develop into a range of different kind of cells — researchers say the new method could regulate a diabetic’s blood sugar without any other form of treatment. The research was found by stem cell scientist Douglas Melton and a team of Harvard researchers and published in the journal Cell Thursday.
“You never know for sure that something like this is going to work until you’ve tested it numerous ways,” Melton said in a press release. “We’ve given these cells three separate challenges with glucose in mice and they’ve responded appropriately. That was really exciting.”
Researchers grew billions of insulin-secreting, or beta, cells using stem cells from humans. They then injected the cells into diabetic mice, and observed their blood sugar levels, which remained at healthy levels after six months.
Melton said he was driven to find a “cure for diabetes” ever since his children developed type 1 at an early age. The beta cells that he and his researchers grew from stem cells functioned like normal ones, and were not attacked by the mice’s immune systems, a common problem with treatments like the ones used by Melton and his team.
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that affects those who develop it for life — more than 34 million worldwide. The immune system destroys beta cells in the pancreas where insulin is produced.
People with type 1 diabetes currently rely on daily injections of insulin to control their blood sugar. However, the shots are much less accurate than the body’s own metabolism, and often lead to nerve damage, loss of limbs and blindness.
Researchers are now testing the method on other animals, and will soon test it on primates to determine its viability in humans.