Type-1 diabetes is a medical condition in which patients suffer from a deficiency of insulin, produced in the islets of Langerhans region of the pancreas. Insulin is responsible for regulating the metabolism of energy in the body, primarily in the form of glucose. Insulin takes glucose from the blood, which in high levels can become toxic, and stores it as glycogen in the liver and muscles. If one suffers from a deficiency of insulin, their body cannot properly regulate levels of glucose, and therefore patients must inject necessary insulin into their bodies.
This month has seen multiple studies released which discuss ways in which scientists are trying to eliminate the need of insulin injections for type-1 diabetes patients, allowing them to live a more regulated and relaxed life.
In a report released by The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, scientists have reported that a former skin-drug may be helpful as a treatment for type-1 diabetes. The drug, Alefacept, has been traditionally used to treat psoriasis, another auto-immune disorder in which the immune system attacks healthy skin cells. When the drug is injected into patients with type-1 diabetes, it attacks the T-cells which are responsible for attacking insulin-producing cells. Following a 36-week trial, patients who had injected themselves with alefacept were able to regulate their insulin levels much better than those who had not received the injections. Researchers at Indiana University said that the results exhibited a small success, but that alefacept “could be used to stabilise type 1 diabetes and prevent its progression”.
A second trial also uses an alternative drug to deal with the issue of insulin deficiency. Researchers at the University of Geneva have discovered that those who suffer from type-1 diabetes can potentially live a life without insulin. The team of researches injected leptin, a hormone which regulates fat reserves and appetite, to a group of rodents which suffered from insulin-deficiency. The results showed much promise toward humans being able to live a life free of insulin, which has the negative side affects of hypoglycemia and is lypogenic (fat-inducing). On the converse, leptin does not cause hypoglycemia and is lypolitic (fat-reducing). The rats injected with leptin were able to live normal lives without insulin, perhaps because leptin and its glucose-regulating properties are controlled by the hypothalamus, a region of the brain not involved as a cause of insulin-deficiency.
The third major report concerning insulin showcases progress made with islets transplants in the pancreas. In islets transplantation, insulin-producing cells are taken from a donor pancreas and implanted into the liver of one suffering from type-1 diabetes. This technique has been met with mixed reviews in the past. However, scientists have made progress toward making the process more efficient. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have developed a new technique in which they rest the donated cells for a period of three days before transplanting them into the patient. This resting period allows the cells to get over their period of irritation and inflation, reducing the chances that they will be rejected by the body. Through this method, scientists have seen better results using a smaller number of cells. This method seems to be the most promising considering the fact that if it is perfected, it would mean type-1 diabetes patients would be able to naturally regulate their insulin levels without having to hope for a pancreas transplant.
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