A study by Australia’s Monash University has identified a new way to restore insulin production in the pancreatic cells. The development is being seen as a major breakthrough that could one day lead to eliminating the need for daily insulin injections, and develop no therapies for diabetes treatment. The research, published in the Nature journal Signal Transduction and Targeted Therapy, was led by diabetes experts Professor Sam El-Osta, Dr Keith Al-Hasani and Indian-origin Dr Ishant Khurana, from the Monash Department of Diabetes.
Insulin, a hormone produced by beta cells in the pancreas, helps regulate blood sugar levels in the body. In Type 1 diabetes, beta cells produce less or no insulin at all.
As part of their study, researchers at the Monash University used donated pancreatic stem cells of a deceased 13-year-old Type 1 diabetes patient, and were able to “reactivate” them to produce insulin. This was done using a drug — GSK-123 — which is approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, but is not licensed for diabetes treatment. In principle, this shows that insulin-producing cells (beta cells), which have been destroyed in Type 1 diabetes, can be replaced with new insulin-generating cells, the university said.
The scientists admit that their approach requires further work before a therapy reaches patients. But they say that the research has the potential to help develop new ways to treat Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, especially for insulin-dependent diabetes.
“More work is required to define the properties of these cells and establish protocols to isolate and expand them…I would think therapy is pretty far away, however, this represents an important step along the way to devising a lasting treatment that might be applicable for all types of diabetes,” Dr Al Hashmi was quoted as saying in a Monash University release.
At present, the only way to treat insulin-dependent diabetes is through daily insulin injections or through pancreas/pancreatic islet transplantation that relies on donors and therefore has a limited widespread use.