Among the fastest-growing scientific areas JDRF supports is research aimed at regenerating insulin producing cells in people who have diabetes (as opposed to transplanting cells from organ donors or other sources). This involves triggering the body to grow its own new insulin producing cells, either by copying existing ones - some are usually still active, even in people who have had diabetes for decades - or causing the pancreas to create new ones.
Regeneration: Recent Key Advances, Spring 2009
Two-Drug Combination Therapy Reverses Type 1 Diabetes
In a study in mice, scientists found that a short treatment with two drugs reversed type 1 diabetes. The combination therapy - glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) and gastrin - increased the number of beta cells in the mice. Scientists were surprised to find evidence that the therapy also seemed to tamp down the autoimmune attack. The findings suggest that the two drugs work together to target both the cellular mechanisms that promote beta cell growth and survival, as well as the immunologic mechanisms that destroy beta cells in type 1 diabetes. The work, which was carried out by Dr. Alex Rabinovitch at the University of Alberta and Dr. Mark Atkinson at the University of Florida, was funded by grants from JDRF and Transition Therapeutics, one of JDRF's Industry Discovery and Development partners.
What this may mean for people with type 1 diabetes: The findings provide encouraging evidence that this therapy might be effective in both increasing beta cell mass and slowing the autoimmune process - which would make it an extremely attractive avenue for treating people with type 1 diabetes. However, these results must be validated in human clinical trials. JDRF has partnered with Transition Therapeutics to develop a clinical trial, and Transition Therapeutics recently announced a partnership with the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, which is expected to further speed its development.
Compounds That Trigger Beta Cell Replication Are Identified
Researchers at the Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation (GNF) have identified a set of compounds that can trigger the proliferation of insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. Using a sophisticated technique called high-throughput screening, a research team led by Dr. Peter Schultz, Institute Director at GNF, screened a large chemical "library" of over 850,000 compounds for their effect on the growth of a mouse beta cell line. Out of this large collection, about 80 compounds showed promise for further investigation, and two were particularly noteworthy. One of the two appears to promote beta cell replication via a biological pathway critical for beta cell development in the embryo.
What this may mean for people with type 1 diabetes: The study, funded by JDRF, is the first of its kind in type 1 diabetes and represents an important initial step in the possible discovery of regenerative medicines for type 1 patients. "Targeting beta cell regeneration is still a relatively new approach for the treatment of type 1 diabetes," said Patricia Kilian, Director of Regeneration Research at JDRF. "This study is a step toward identifying small molecules that may induce the expansion of beta cells, and it may help reveal the biological mechanisms regulating this process."