There may one day be a cure for people suffering from Type 1 diabetes. Defu Zeng of the City of Hope National Medical Center plus over a dozen colleagues were successful in reversing Type 1 diabetes in 60% of their mouse subjects.
Contrary to its nickname ‘juvenile diabetes’, Type 1 diabetes can occur at any age, though it is most often diagnosed before early adulthood. In non-diabetics, the pancreas contains specialized 'beta cells' that produce insulin. Without beta cells, there is no insulin, and without insulin we can’t move glucose from our blood streams into our cells. People with Type 1 diabetes suffer from an autoimmune disease in which they destroy their own beta cells.
This means that transplanting beta cells into people with Type 1 diabetes is only a temporary fix. Before long, their immune systems will attack the new cells just as they did the original ones. Therefore, any permanent solution must cure the immune system of its taste for beta cells.
To combat this problem, the researchers used a combination of two methods that independently were not able to treat the disease. First, they used bone marrow transplants combined with immunosuppressive therapies to create ‘mixed chimeras’ between diabetic mice and healthy donors. The immune systems of these mice no longer attacked beta cells. Next, they used the hormone gastrin plus epidermal growth factor to stimulate the growth of new beta cells. In 60% of the mice treated with both regiments, Type 1 diabetes was fully reversed.