Gene Therapy, Stem Cells & Other Novel Diabetes Treatment Options

Insulin and lifestyle changes are the typical treatments for diabetes. But what about gene therapy, artificial pancreas, stem cell therapy and other new approaches?

There is no known reason for what causes diabetes.  There are certain risk factors that make the likelihood of you being diagnosed with the disease higher.  One of the only risk factors that you have control over is your weight.  If you are obese, the single best thing you can do for your health and the prevention of diabetes is to lose weight.  Even in small increments, when you shed pounds you are increasing your health benefits. This may be easier said than done.

Previous studies show that there is a genetic factor or mutation for people who are obese and have diabetes.  This genetic malfunction affects how the bodies use energy and insulin – two key elements in the functioning of your body and the cause of diabetes and obesity. The studies also state that this is not a cause and effect case.  If you carry this defective gene you are not guaranteed to be obese or have diabetes.  But the link is there and it can be prevented.  You may have to work harder at it than others to maintain a healthy body weight and put off diabetes but it can be done.

The gene that researchers have discovered as a precursor to diabetes has been found in young children.  It is scary to know that children in their preschool years are being diagnosed with obesity and type 2 diabetes due to genetics.  But parents can reduce or prevent these things from happening by giving their children healthy lifestyle choices.  

Over the years, as more research emerged about the genes and the role of the immune system in causing diabetes researchers have been trying to find novel ways to treat it. Some of these newer treatments are referenced below with links to the latest trials or studies of interest.

  1. 1 Artificial Pancreas

    The artificial pancreas is a system composed of a combination of the following components: a system that continuously monitors the glucose levels in the body, a computer algorithm, and an insulin pump. Another device such as a glucose meter is used to calibrate the artificial pancreas system. 

    More on artificial pancreas here.  

  2. 2 Immunotherapy

    Most immunotherapy trails are still in their early phases. One trial that is showing promising results is the one conducted by Lmcyse.

    In Type 1 diabetes, the body's immune cells T cells start killing beta cells in the pancreas. To solve this problem, Imcyse is working on developing specific cells, made of protein precursors that "prime" or recruit another set of  T cells (cytolytic) to guard the insulin-producing cells. 

    The whole idea behind this approach is that these cells will aim to kill the autoimmune cells without affecting the rest of the body. Read more about this ongoing study.

  3. 3 Gene Therapy

    The development of gene therapies for diabetes remains in the early stages, Most of the documented research cites evidence in animal studies, but nothing has been developed for humans yet. 

    One promising study on animals targeted a specific Fab gene- that's not short for fabulous, its actually a gene responsible for fat metabolism in the body. The researchers attempted to suppress this gene on mice who were obese and developed insulin resistance. Within a few weeks, the study findings were astonishing. 

     According to the study authors,  "Fabp4 repression resulted in a 20% reduction of body weight and improved insulin resistance and inflammation after just six weeks of treatment." While these therapies may take a while to reach clinical phases, they are promising. Read more about this study here.

  4. 4 Stem Cell therapy

    To date, stem cell therapy has been used to cure a myriad of diseases. For diabetes, there is an ongoing clinical trial for stem cell therapy in the treatment of Diabetes Type 1. It is important to note that many studies have confirmed the ability of stem cells to differentiate into various cells, however, researchers are concerned over the ability of the body to regulate stem cells and the potential of these cells to develop into cancer cells

  5. 5 Pancreas transplantation

    Pancreas transplantation is not a new procedure. It has been implemented across the world and is a treatment option for Diabetes outside the USA, whereas in the USA it remains an experimental procedure. The transplant procedure has been used to treat Diabetes type I mainly. 

    In 2019, the Diabetes Research Institute Foundation published its review of the status of the recipients of pancreas transplantation. These patients had transplants over 10 years ago, and according to the DRI, although not all of the subjects remain insulin-independent,  a significant number continue to exhibit excellent graft function for over 10 years. This allows them near-normal glucose metabolism in the absence of severe hypoglycemia on small doses of insulin.

    These are five treatments that researchers are currently exploring. 

    Read more about Diabetes 

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