Can Gene Therapy Normalize Blood Sugar Levels?

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Type 1 Diabetes is a condition where our own immune system considers our own body part, like the pancreas cells producing insulin, an enemy. So, the body’s ability to regulate glucose levels go haywire. As a result, a patient of type 1 diabetes needs to rely on insulin injections and medications all through life.Frequent blood tests to monitor the sugar levels are to be done for leading a healthy life. The problem can lead to too many complications and can make one go into depression and.

Types of cells

Beta cells are the cells in pancreas that are responsible for producing insulin. Insulin not only helps absorb glucose from the bloodstream but also helps in the metabolism and regulation of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Alpha cells are another major type of cells which synthesizes the hormone glucagon. Glucagon elevates the level of glucose in the body.

But, the metabolism is not one and the same for everyone. In most of the people, the hormones are produced by the cells in varying quantities. When it comes to type 1 diabetes, the beta cells are destroyed, but the alpha cells still survive leading to an imbalance in the level of glucose in blood.

Cell Stem Cell, a noted journal, has published a new clinical study, which shows that one day gene therapy can help the people with diabetes in leading a healthy life..

Does it work?

The University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh carried out this experiment on mice, which have organ systems similar to the human’s and are used in laboratories for experiments.

While, the scientists never believed it to work, they gave it a try. The Director of Surgical Research and a lead scientist at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, George Gittes, explained that they worked on a module where the alpha cells were converted into the beta cells so that the root cause of the problem was met. However, while gene therapy helps in producing new insulin-producing cells, there are chances of the new cells getting destroyed by autoimmunity. On the contrary, this did not happen! Using an endoscope, the protein-containing liquid was delivered to the pancreas. The adeno associated virus delivered 2 types of proteins-Pdx1 and MafA and the pancreas of the mice could reprogram the alpha cells and get them converted into beta cells. The result was that the alpha cells started producing beta cells in the mice, and this process lasted for 4 months. Gittes elucidated that the team did not expect it to work, and it was a mere trick.

Alan Attie, from the University of Wisconsin lab, said the discovery of plasticity between the alpha and beta cells is fantastic and can be utilized for therapeutic purposes.

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