Australian scientists have demonstrated a new way to restore insulin production in pancreatic cells using a drug that is already approved for use in humans. The study could mark a major breakthrough toward new treatments for diabetes.
Blood sugar levels are managed by the hormone insulin, which is produced in beta cells in the pancreas. However, in patients with type 1 diabetes these cells begin to die, resulting in little or no insulin production and a lifelong need for supplemental insulin shots to manage the disease.
In a new study, researchers at Monash University have identified a new way to restore insulin production in the pancreas. In laboratory experiments on pancreatic stem cells from donors with type 1 diabetes, the team was able to activate them to start expressing insulin by exposing them to a pharmaceutical compound called GSK126.
Interestingly, these progenitor cells do not normally produce insulin, but the drug allows them to functionally step into the shoes of beta cells that had stopped working. In theory, a single course of such medication over a few days could replace the need for regular insulin shots in diabetics.
The team says the new potential treatment has some advantages over other techniques currently in use or under development. Pancreas transplants are effective, but subject to other complications such as organ donor shortage and rejection. Other teams have converted skin cells into stem cells and used them to produce new beta cells, and although results in mice have been promising, immune-suppressing drugs must be given to prevent rejection.
The new treatment will work much faster in just a few days and without the need for surgery. But perhaps the biggest advantage is that GSK126 has already been approved for cancer treatment by the US FDA and elsewhere in the world. Its safety profile is already being evaluated in clinical trials, which may lower the barriers to its use against diabetes.
That said, scientists caution that it is still very early days. These experiments were done on cells in culture – not yet even in animals – so there is still a lot of work to do. Still, it remains an intriguing new potential tool.
“There are many issues to be addressed before you go to patients,” said study co-lead author Dr. Keith Al-Hasani. “More work is needed to define the properties of these cells and to establish protocols for isolating and expanding them. I think therapy is far from over. However, it remains with the way to design a permanent treatment.” represents an important step forward that could be applicable to all types of diabetes.”
The research was published in the journal Signal transduction and targeted therapy, The team describes the work in the video below.
Monash diabetes research accelerates path to cure by pancreatic cell regeneration
Source: Monash University