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What is diabetes? Diabetes is a deadly disease that is known to cause numerous health
complications and even death. Type 1 diabetes mellitus is characterized by the body’s
destruction of pancreatic beta-cells. Beta-cells are responsible for the production of insulin, a hormone that regulates serum glucose levels. Type 2 diabetes mellitus has a similar overall outcome but is caused by either a lack of insulin or faulty insulin receptors. Diabetes has been known to cause nerve damage resulting in amputations, blindness, or even death. When glucose is properly controlled by the intake of low glycemic foods and by the adaptation of a healthy lifestyle, these daunting complications can be avoided. Although this disease can be well controlled, no one true cure has been discovered, but current research may be heading in the right direction.
The article analyzed in this blog post looks closely at cell regeneration therapy as well as
other methods such as islet transplantation and gene therapy as a potential cure for diabetes. I want to focus on what I find to be the most intriguing cell generation. The three ways in which to potentially introduce/develop “new” fully functioning beta-cells is as follows: 1. “In vitro regeneration therapy using transplanted culture cells” 2. “In ex vivo regeneration therapy” 3. “In in vivo regeneration therapy.” Let’s dumb this idea down a bit. Basically, we can use cultured cells outside of the body to be implanted into one’s pancreas or cells from within the body to differentiate into beta-cells. There is a lot to consider with this type of therapy-immunosuppressive action to ensure your body doesn’t destroy it’s new cells (also can have some pretty scary side effects - yikes) or other therapies that can be coupled with the original regeneration such as “islet transplantation, cell-based therapy, or gene therapy.”
So this is a pretty big concept, but the overall big picture seems quite simple right? Cells
don’t work, so make cells that do? Can it be that easy? Here is what we know..
In in vitro regeneration therapy, differentiated cultured cells foreign to the individual are
in introduced into their body. This form of therapy requires immunosuppressive drugs for the entirety of one's lifespan. This alone opens the door to numerous health complications. Due to these adverse effects, this form of therapy has been limited to severe type 1 diabetics only. In other words, yes, diabetes can be an extremely difficult disease to live with, but so can nephrotoxicity and hypertension caused by immunosuppressive medications, would you trade one problem for another?
Ex vivo regeneration therapy involves the manipulation of an individual’s own cells
outside of the body, followed by reintroducing the cells in the body once treatment is complete. No immunosuppressive drugs are needed in this case since the cells are still recognized as “self.” Typically, this type of treatment extracts mesenchymal stem cells from bone marrow to treat bone conditions, however, this mechanism is not likely to work with beta-cells and diabetic patients. Trials performed on mouses resulted in “brain, retina, lung, myocardium, skeletal muscle, liver, intestine, kidney, spleen, bone marrow, blood, and skin, but not pancreas.” Basically, the stem cells differentiated and formed every tissue besides the one we need in this circumstance, perfect. On to the next one.
In vivo regeneration therapy is the process of regeneration of one’s own impaired cells
within the body. This is done in numerous diseases today. For example, those with renal
anemia have been treated with granulocytopenia, erythropoietin and granulocyte-colony
stimulating factor. (G-CSF) Similarly, vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) vectors have been injected into muscular tissue of those with occlusive peripheral artery disease
to promote neovascularization from remaining arteries.” If we can promote growth of cells and tissues needed to “fix” our disease so to speak, why not apply this mechanism to pancreatic beta-cells? Based on prior trials and studies, “in vivo generation therapy is, in general, more cost-effective, has fewer side effects, and is in addition more ethically and clinically acceptable than in vitro and ex vivo regeneration therapies.” Two main methods identified for this form of therapy are: “induction of beta-cell differentiation and stimulation of beta-cell growth.”
If scientist continue to research these methods and safe, reliable, effective protocols are mastered, we could have a cure for diabetes. BOOM.
Sure, there are tons of other cell therapies we could explore, but I will leave you with
that. If you are interested, I have attached an article to this post that I referenced. I have not found trials performing these exact therapies in diabetic patients, however, I have come across some non-scholarly articles about current cell regeneration trials in the UK. Only two patients have been tested thus far, but who knows what the future holds. It will be interesting to see how diabetes is treated five to ten years from now. We just might have a cure.