January 20, 2019

Curing Diabetes

MIT scientists believe they are close to curing Type 1 diabetes, and hoping to make daily insulin shots obsolete. 

Researchers at MIT reported in the journal Nature that they have successfully transplanted cells into mice that began producing insulin, that the body’s immune system did not reject these cells, and that the cells engineered functioned for six months. 

Type 1 diabetes, known to some as juvenile diabetes, afflicts about 1.25 million Americans, about 200,000 under the age of 20.  Type 1 diabetes is believed to have a genetic connection and is not related to weight or lifestyle, as is Type 2 diabetes.

Harvard and MIT researchers discovered how to produce pancreatic beta cells, those responsible for producing insulin, in 2014. Now, they have implanted these cells into Type 1 diabetic mice.  They have engineered newly-modified alginate material to encapsulate human pancreatic islet cells, making the body adopt them without rejection.  The human islet cells used for the new research were generated from human stem cells developed by Professor Melton of Harvard.

This method “has the potential to provide diabetics with a new pancreas that is protected from the immune system,” study co-author Daniel Anderson said in a statement, “which would allow them to control their blood sugar without taking drugs.”   Further, “We are excited by these results, and are working hard to advance this technology to the clinic.”   Daniel Anderson is the lead MIT chemical engineering professor on this project.

Scientists are looking forward to replicating these results in humans soon.