Type 1 Diabetes Cure In the Works

Beta cell implantation could replace insulin injections, researchers from MIT and Harvard say

A breakthrough in diabetes type 1 research could mean replacing needles with healthy cells inside the body.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI) have found that implanting healthy cells into the body of mice-and protecting these cells with a device-could mean that human type 1 diabetes patients would no longer need insulin injections in the future.

In this study, beta cells, or cells that produce insulin, were inserted into the pancreas, along with a device that blocks attacks from the body. The mice were able to release the insulin their body needed for six months without interruption or destruction of the cells. Implanting beta cells could also be safer than injecting insulin, according to the study. Injecting insulin makes personalizing treatment to match a patient's exact needs difficult, according to the Harvard Gazette. This can mean a patient is not adequately treated and can still face the effects of long-term type 1 diabetes, such as blindness.

According to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), about 3 million people live with type 1 diabetes, and this new development could one day be a cure, considering its effectiveness. Almost 30 million people live with diabetes, according to the American Diabetics Association. Those with type 2 diabetes, which occurs when the body doesn't produce enough insulin, could also one day benefit from this treatment if their condition worsens, according to the Harvard Gazette.

“This report is an important step forward, in an animal model, because it shows that there may be a way to overcome one of the major hurdles that have stood in the way of a cure for type 1 diabetes," Doug Melton, co-director of HSCI, said to the Harvard Gazette.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder, or a disorder in which the body attacks its own cells. The disease, which usually appears in younger people and kids, causes the pancreas to no longer produce the hormone insulin. Insulin takes sugar ingested into the body from food and takes it into cells to be used for energy.

When insulin is unavailable, the sugar populates the blood stream, which could lead to kidney failure, a loss of limbs and eyesight, and nerve damage, according to the Mayo Clinic. Insulin injections are the primary way to live with the disorder, however, according to the JDRF, the treatment is not always effective.

"We are excited by this new technology and are working hard to advance it to the clinic,” Daniel G. Anderson, the Samuel A. Goldblith Professor of Applied Biology at MIT, told the Harvard Gazette.

This study was published January 21 in the journals Nature Medicine and Nature Biotechnology.The JDRF, Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust funded this research.

Disclosures were not available at time of publication.