Is a cure for Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes in the making? That is what research scientists at the Salk Institute are hoping with the identification of a key protein that can be used to make insulin-producing beta cells.
The protein, ERR-gamma, increases energy production in beta cells which, in turn, helps the body create insulin. The beta cells are made from induced pluripotent stem cells (IPS) which are produced from artificial embryonic stem cells.
Cell replacement therapy is gaining ground as a cure for a number of diseases, but this development is significant in the treatment of Type 1 diabetes, which was previously considered incurable. Research has revealed that the ERR-gamma protein stimulates mitochondria in cells damaged by autoimmune malfunctions, providing them with the energy needed to produce insulin.
This approach differs from current diabetes treatment methods that use Islet cells or pancreases culled from cadavers. While showing some success, they are used only in the most severe cases. Current treatment methods for Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes requires regular injections of artificial insulin, such as Levemir, along with diet and exercise to control the disease.
Pancreatic Islet Cells
According to Dr. Ronald Evans, one of the researchers working on the ERR-gamma protein project, “The day we implant them [the cells], the diabetes start going away.” The advantage that induced pluripotent stem cells have is they can be effectively grown in a laboratory in the quantities needed to make them effective.
However, there are some stumbling blocks, the most critical being the immune system of the recipient, as it can attack the implanted cells and render them useless. To combat this, the company ViaCyte is currently in Phase 1 testing to study the viability of IPS encapsulated in a semi-permeable barrier that blocks immune system interference while still allowing nutrients to enter and insulin and waste products to exit the cell.
While this announcement sparks the hopes of all who suffer from diabetes, regardless of type, the research is still in its early stages with multiple rounds of testing still to come. However, this development is very encouraging since it brings the future of diabetes treatment a great deal closer. For more information about diabetes and its currently available treatments, visit our Diabetes Condition Page.