Researchers find new way to treat diabetes

January 1st, 2009 - 12:43 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Jan 1 (IANS) Researchers have developed a technique for transplanting insulin-producing pancreatic cells that will open up novel ways of treating type-I diabetes. Type-I diabetes is an incurable autoimmune disease in which the immune system mistakenly destroys the body’s own pancreatic beta cells.

Beta cells produce insulin, which breaks down sugar, or glucose, for use by the body. Without these cells, too much glucose builds up in the blood.

High blood glucose levels damage cells and can eventually lead to complications such as heart disease, kidney disease, blindness, and premature death.

Type 1 diabetes affects up to 2.4 million Americans and can develop at any age, though it typically appears during childhood or adolescence.

At present, cell transplantation therapy is limited because transplant recipients are forced to take powerful immunosuppressant medications that leave toxic side effects and raise the risk of infection.

Harris Goldstein, professor of paediatrics and microbiology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and colleagues devised a way to make foreign beta cells invisible to a transplant recipient’s immune system, dramatically protecting them from rejection in mice models.

People with type 1 diabetes must closely monitor their blood glucose levels and take daily insulin injections for life.

A promising alternative to insulin injections is cellular transplantation, in which beta cells are harvested from cadavers and injected into the bloodstream of patients with diabetes; the new cells replace the recipients’ destroyed pancreatic beta cells.

Although such transplants can control type 1 diabetes, recipients must take immunosuppressant medications in order to prevent rejection of these beta foreign cells, said a statement from the college.

“Ultimately, even with immunosuppressive therapy, most of these individuals end up rejecting the transplanted cells,” said the study’s principal investigator, Harris Goldstein, professor of paediatrics and microbiology & immunology at Einstein.

The therapy has been described in the online version of Gene Therapy.

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