Regenerating Beta Cells for Diabetes Treatment

Ann Bartlett Health Guide
  • Type 1 diabetes, also known as juvenile diabetes, is an autoimmune disease.  Without injected insulin, people who have diabetes cannot survive.  Insulin was invented in 1928 changing our lives from a death sentence to someone living with diabetes.  It is a little mind numbing to think about!  The 1928 research team's discovery awarded them with a Nobel prize for science.  But since the invention of insulin, what science has impacted those of us living with diabetes in the same way? 


    It would seem that somewhere between 1928 and today something huge, like a cure for diabetes, should exist. We are looking for a cure for diabetes and we want it now, but this disease is a big one to unravel!  If one autoimmune disease were cured chances are the rest would be helped by the same protocol!  To give you a perspective of how many diseases are now linked to the autoimmune system, check out the front page of  Of the diseases listed, 14 are autoimmune related.

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    The reason for a lack of a cure is profound.  The complexity of the body and the autoimmune system has taken a longtime to understand.  Many times, they have thought they were headed down the right path and found that it was a dead end.  Who wants to invest in research that ends with no return? 


    The current cost for new drug therapy to hit the marketplace averages $800 million to achieve.  Concerns for progress in research are many, because the future of rolling out new drug therapy is about to rise from $800 million to $1.2-1.4 billion. That is the investment a pharmaceutical or venture capital company has to look at when investing in a seed project.  Additionally, with the global economy being weak, high-risk investments, like research, have becoming unfavorable investments.  Pharmaceutical companies and venture capitalists are looking at what already exists that might work with another disease to create a cure or better management of a condition.  This is what has given beta cell regeneration a huge spark of interest!


    In 2007, JDRF started to focus part of their research on regeneration. Researchers used to believe that the destruction of beta cells in type 1 diabetes was thought to be irreversible.  But what has been discovered is that beta cell mass is, in fact, continuously adjusting.  In other words, we are still making them.  These new findings are raising the possibility that more molecules can be found, which modulate the number of beta cells as a treatment for type 1!


    To begin to explain regeneration, if you cut off a piece of a person's liver, the larger remaining liver will regenerate itself.  So, the question from diabetes researchers is why can't we get beta cells to regenerate?  What drugs are on the market that could create the potential to regenerate a person's beta cells?  This is what Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation is exploring and finding success. Of the 47 trials JDRF is involved with, 14 are in regeneration.


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    So, here's how beta cell regeneration breaks down: people who are at risk of developing type 1 will need a way to promote beta cell survival.  With newly diagnosed type 1, you need to promote growth and promote survival of the beta cells.  And for people like me with established type 1, we need to be able to generate new cells, promote growth, promote survival, or reprogram other cells.  That's a lot, but not out of the realm of possibility.


    For those of you with type 2, regeneration may also work for you.  One of the trials, currently in phase 2, is called GLP-1 & Gastrin for islet cell regeneration. Eli Lilly signed a licensing agreement with Transition Therapeutics Inc. in March, 2008.  Gastrin based therapies have found that GLP-1 and their gastrin analogue, G1, have an important role in regenerating beta cells, but it also promotes sustained glucose control for type 2 diabetes!


    Regeneration is making headway globally; key research is coming out of Israel, Switzerland, France and the US.  And the good news for people living with diabetes is that it's moving quickly from concept to human trial, and because they can bypass FDA new drug requirements, it will take far less time to reach all of us who need it!


Published On: November 19, 2009