by michael on December 16, 2010

With enthusiasm drenched in hope and optimism I read Deborah Huso’s article describing advances made by researchers in having human cells produce insulin.

Regrettably, I have become intimately aware of that form of diabetes referred to generally as juvenile diabetes. The body turns upon itself in a metaphoric act of self loathing and destroys the beta cells that produce insulin. Without insulin, the body cannot process glucose. High blood sugar levels result and very bad things happen, both the in the short term and in the intermediate term. There is no long term for untreated juvenile diabetics.

Those invested in curing the disease tend to read with rapacious need any statement that offers hope. Here are key paragraphs in her article:

“Scientists may be getting closer to finding a cure for type I diabetes if new research conducted in mice plays out in humans. Researchers at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, D.C., have found they can convert spermatogonial stem cells (SSCs) from the testes into insulin-secreting beta islet cells normally found in the pancreas. And they can do so with greater ease than has been done in the past using adult stem cells.

“Researchers, led by Dr. G. Ian Gallicano, associate professor at Georgetown University Medical Center, conducted their studies in mice, taking one gram of tissue from human testes and producing about one million stem cells in the laboratory. The cells they produced mimicked many of the biological markers that characterize normal beta islet cells. The team then transplanted those newly produced stem cells into immune deficient diabetic mice and found they could decrease glucose levels in the mice for about a week.

“The data we have is pretty promising,” he adds. “We’re not looking to treat diabetes. We have insulin shots for that. The goal is to cure it.”

“The number one goal right now is to get these cells to secrete enough insulin to cure diabetes in humans,” Gallicano says. “We don’t have the cure yet, but yet is the key word here. We’re working on it.”

Years ago I visited the Joslin Diabetes Research Center associated with Massachusetts General Hospital and with Harvard Medical School. I spent hours watching these wonderful folks analyzing tiny spots on Petri dishes. I looked through high powered microscopes and watched insulin producing cells multiply.

I spoke in depth with Jennifer Lock, one of the researchers. Among the many points she made, one was that growing insulin producing cells had already been accomplished. That could be done. Liver cells, among others, could be reconfigured to produce insulin, for example. What could NOT be done was creating the triggering mechanism that would cause the cells to produce insulin in response to rising blood sugar levels AND no ‘turn off’ mechanism had been developed so that the cells would STOP producing insulin when the proper blood sugar level was re-established.

Those points were not addressed in Huso’s article and I did not see them addressed when I read material on the Georgetown University Medical Center’s website. Nevertheless, I shall donate money to the Medical Center and continue to hope for a change, if you know what I mean.
More later

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