The recent discovery of a genetic induced technology, which research says enables patients with type 1 diabetes to generate insulin naturally, could herald the beginning of answers to the elusive and troubling hereditary diseases fix.
Scientists have described the new advances as a ‘promising scientific breakthrough’, which could save generations from diseases acquired through the family line.
According to Dr. Vishal Goyal of the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi), the new technology has proved that medicine is evolving into modern science of using gene and stem cell therapy to cure complex health problems.
“The current treatment of diabetes which requires external daily intakes of insulin is very stressful to the patients because they do not know when they are likely to die,” says Goyal, who is also a clinical manager in New Delhi, India.
In the July edition of the Science Daily journal, scientists at Sanford – Burnham Medical Research Institute published a study which claimed to have discovered a new way to induce insulin production among people living with type 1 diabetes.
According to them, the new technology restores the body’s ability to produce insulin naturally and shows promise of saving millions of patients from the daily pain of treatment.
By introducing caerulein, a peptide that was originally discovered in the skin of the Australian Blue Mountains tree frog, the body can convert pancreatic cells into those destroyed by type 1 diabetes, or the ones known as beta cells, argued researchers in a study published in the July edition of Science Daily journal.
After injecting caerulein into mice with busted beta cells, researchers discovered that the existing alpha cells in the pancreas conformed into insulin producing cells, according to the 2014 study.
However, this does not mean alpha cells become beta cells normally, although both exist next to each other in the pancreas islets, and perform the endocrine function of synthesizing and secreting hormones, says the study.
The same process was found to work in humans, and does not have an age limit, even for those living with type 1 diabetes for decades, explained Fred Levine, professor and director of the Sanford Children’s Health Research Center at Sanford – Burnham.
Science says caerulein is a peptide that stimulates gastric, biliary, and pancreatic secretions, and has been used in humans as a diagnostic tool in pancreatic diseases.
“Having the body produce insulin naturally will save a lot of lives,” observes Goyal. “But more research and tests are needed to ensure the efficacy and safe treatment with the new technology.”
Experts say it is accurate to link diabetes with neglected diseases, because it was previously not thought of as a serious problem, especially in Africa.
Diabetes: the Ignored Killer
Scientists at the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) say diabetes may have been ignored for a long time because Africa was convinced that infectious diseases were the only burden that the continent had to bear.
“But diabetes has reached epidemic levels and this is when people are realizing it is a serious problem,” argues Dr. Juma Rashid, the director of clinical research at KEMRI. “Now we have a tragedy of having to deal with both communicable and non-communicable diseases.”
According to him, the breakthrough by the Sanford – Burnham Medical Research Institute is likely to inspire more research into gene technology, saving the world from what has come to be known as a serious lifestyle disease burden.
However, he says, the technology should not only be used to treat type 1 diabetes, but it should also be useful in diseases that can be traced down to genetic origins.
There are more than 300 million people living with type 1 diabetes worldwide. According to the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) the number of people with diabetes in Africa will double by 2035.
The scale of deaths due to diabetes in those aged 60 and below in Africa, says IDF, is 76 per cent, while those who do not have a clue that they are living with diabetes account for 46 per cent of the population.
Science says type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in children and young adults, and was previously known as juvenile diabetes.
In type 1 diabetes, the body does not produce insulin, a hormone that is needed to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy needed for daily life, experts say.
Meanwhile, more than 9,000 students from selected African countries are expected to benefit from a new e-learning program to manage and prevent diabetes by 2018.
Through the five year Capacity Advancement Program (CAP) by Merck, medical and pharmacy students in African Universities are being enlisted for the European Accredited Clinical Diabetes Management course.
According to Merck Pharma chief executive officer, Dr. Stefan Oschmann, the purpose of the program is to reduce healthcare costs and inspire research to prevent, manage and treat chronic diseases among Africa’s marginalized.
“We are confident that supporting e-learning for the diabetes educational program will improve access to innovative and high quality healthcare solutions and disease awareness, contributing significantly to the economical and social development in Africa,” says Oschmann.