An experimental drug created with adult stem cells is showing promise as a potential new way to treat, or even cure, people with type 1 diabetes.
The drug, developed by a University of Missouri scientist, is based on new research showing immune systems of type 1 diabetics attack the insulin-producing cells they are designed to protect as well as blood vessels — which is why millions of people with the disorder need daily insulin injections to survive.
The discovery, reported online in the American Diabetes Association journal Diabetes, led to the creation of a new drug that halts that attack and may put medical science on the road to a cure, said Habib Zaghouani, who led the new research.
"We discovered that type 1 diabetes destroys not only insulin-producing cells but also blood vessels that support them," Zaghouani said. "When we realized how important the blood vessels were to insulin production, we developed a cure that combines a drug we created with adult stem cells from bone marrow. The drug stops the immune system attack, and the stem cells generate new blood vessels that help insulin-producing cells to multiply and thrive."
Zaghouani has spent 12 years studying autoimmune diseases like type 1 diabetes. Untreated, it can lead to cardiovascular disease, kidney damage, nerve damage, osteoporosis, and blindness.
Type 1 diabetes attacks the pancreas, the organ that contains cells called islets that make insulin, which regulates blood sugar levels in the body. In type 1 diabetics, the cells no longer make insulin because the body's immune system destroys them.
In past studies, Zaghouani and his team developed a drug called Ig-GAD2 that partially stopped the immune system from attacking insulin-producing cells in mice, but did not reverse the disease. In the latest study, involving mice, Zaghouani used Ig-GAD2 and then injected adult stem cells from bone marrow into the pancreas in the found that the combo created new insulin-producing cells.
Zaghouani said he now hopes to translate his discovery from use in mice to humans, in new research funded by the National Institutes of Health and MU.
"This is extremely exciting for our research team," he said. "Our discovery … has the potential to be applied not only to type 1 diabetes but also a number of other autoimmune diseases."
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