Diabetes researchers say they have made a discovery that could lead to the elimination of the need for daily insulin injections.
- The Monash University team was able to get pancreatic cells to produce insulin
- If the research leads to animal studies and then clinical trials, it could reduce the need for insulin injections
- It could be a ‘game changer’ in the treatment of chronic pain, says an independent researcher
A Monash University study published in the journal Signal Transduction and Targeted Therapy in Nature can lead to the regeneration of insulin in pancreatic stem cells.
Insulin is a hormone produced by the beta cells of the pancreas that helps regulate blood sugar levels.
In general, people with diabetes do not naturally produce enough insulin, or their bodies do not use the hormone properly. In many people with diabetes, the beta cells cannot produce insulin at all.
“There are many different types of diabetes and it’s a disease that requires constant attention,” said Keith Al-Hasani, a researcher at Monash University and one of the study’s authors.
Type 1 diabetes often occurs when patients are children, Dr. Al-Hasani said, which often means up to five insulin injections a day as young adults become accustomed to the disease. Adult patients may receive up to 100 injections per month to manage pain.
After a 13-year-old boy with type 1 diabetes died, researchers donated pancreatic cells and used the compound to develop insulin.
“We are now reprogramming cells that normally do not produce insulin to express insulin,” said researcher and study co-author Ishant Khurana.
The compound GSK126 is approved by the US Food and Drug Administration to treat other conditions, but has not been used to treat diabetes in Australia or elsewhere.
When scientists study stem cells, they don’t genetically modify the cells to get their results.
The authors acknowledge that the potential treatment still has a long way to go before it can be used in humans.
They then want to collect pancreatic cell samples from more people, and then move on to animal testing before they start clinical trials in humans.
According to Dr. Khurana, the ultimate goal is to eliminate the need for daily injections and pancreas transplants.
It affects the majority of people with type 1 diabetes and about 30 percent of people with insulin-dependent type 2 diabetes.
According to Diabetes Australia, approximately 1.8 million Australians have diabetes and it is the fastest growing disease in the country. About 500 million people worldwide are infected with the disease.
Simon McCrudden, 46, has been managing his own insulin since he was seven and said removing the burden of daily injections would be “massive”.
“I would have to relearn how to do everyday life, but it would be great,” she said.
Associate Professor Neil Cohen, director of diabetes clinical research at the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute, said the Monash study was still in its early days but showed great potential.
“There are a number of efforts to find ways to replace beta cells, all of which are very important. If possible, this could mean a cure for people with type 1 diabetes,” he said.
According to Dr. Cohen, who was not involved in the study, decades of research “seems to be very difficult to reprogram cells to become insulin-producing cells.
“People won’t need insulin injections and they won’t have the burden of this chronic disease.”