Scientists have acclaimed ‘stem-cell research into a cure for diabetes’ as probably the biggest medical breakthrough since antibiotics. It could possibly get rid of insulin injections, and the damaging and deadly complications of the disease, like strokes and heart attacks, blindness and kidney disease. The treatment that includes developing insulin-producing cells from stem cells, was called a ‘phenomenal accomplishment’ that will ‘leave a dent in the history of diabetes’.
Harvard University researchers claimed they have made a ‘giant leap forward’ in the hunt to spot a cure for type 1 diabetes. This type affects 400,000 Britons, comprising nearly 30,000 children. It is triggered when the immune system attacks the cells in the pancreas that produce the insulin we require to convert the sugar in food into energy. Type 1 diabetics can’t produce insulin, so require regular injections to stop blood sugar levels from fluctuating wildly.
However, the research has kindled hope in the three million Britons with type 2 diabetes, where the body is unable to produce insulin or the insulin doesn’t work properly. This kind is boosted by obesity, rather than the immune system and slurps up a tenth of the NHS budget. The research is based on the potential of stem cells, the ‘master cells’ that can transform into other cell type and are universally deemed as a repair kit for the body.
Harvard researcher Doug Melton, a father of two children with diabetes, discovered a method of generating insulin-producing cells. Dr Melton vowed to his children he’d come up with a cure. In a few instances stem cells came from human embryos. However, he successfully converted human skin cells into ones that produce insulin – something that would be much more ethically tolerable. Grown in the lab and grafted into a mouse with diabetes, the insulin produced by the cells cured the animal, the journal Cell reports. The lab-grown cells are soon going to be tested on people. These cells are the first that work as well as the real thing.
Dr Melton, whose son was diagnosed with type1 diabetes 23 years ago, said, ‘We are now just one pre-clinical step away from the finish line.’ ‘It was relieving to realize that we could do something that we always thought was possible.’ Dr Melton stated hopefully human trials will start in a few years time. As per Jose Oberholzer, a diabetes expert at the University of Illinois at Chicago: ‘the research will leave a dent in the history of diabetes.’ Dr Richard Insel, of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, which part-funded the research, warned it had until now proved its worth only on mice.
THE GRIND OF DAILY INJECTIONS: MOST SUFFERERS NEED FOUR A DAY
Type 1 diabetes patients require daily insulin injections to curb their blood sugar levels. You cannot take it as a tablet as it would break down in the stomach and be incapable of passing into the bloodstream, where it acts to lessen the amount of glucose. Most patients require two to four injections per day. Another option to injecting insulin is a portable pump.The pump is connected to a long, narrow piece of tubing, with a needle at the end, which is thrust under the skin. People usually insert the needle into their stomach.