Cure for Diabetes Approaches Reality

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In the medical world, pigs have provided a host of opportunities for humans, from heart transplant material to cancer therapies.

Now pigs have come to the rescue once again — this time for diabetes.

Researchers from Washington University in St. Louis say they’ve managed to eliminate the disease in rats using transplanted pig cells — and here’s the kicker — without the need for anti-rejection drugs.

The results appear in the American Journal of Pathology.

In a sort of one-two punch, researchers injected embryonic pancreatic pig cells into rats. The cells grow to become the pancreas, the organ responsible for producing insulin and regulating blood sugar. Several weeks later, the scientists injected a second dose of cells, this time from adult pigs.

The rats’ bodies accepted the transplant and began producing enough insulin to regulate their systems, all without the need for anti-rejection drugs.

“While human islet transplants have cured diabetes in some people, there are so few donors that only a small percentage of patients get transplants,” senior author Marc Hammerman MD, the Chromalloy Professor of Renal Diseases in Medicine, told ScienceDaily.

“Moreover, those who receive human islet transplants must take anti-rejection drugs for the rest of their lives, so essentially they are trading daily insulin shots for immune-suppression drugs, which carry their own risks. Our research paves the way for a new approach to treating diabetes, one that features a virtually unlimited supply of islets and no need for immune suppression,” he said.

Hammerman and his colleagues are now beginning experimentation using the same methods on non-human primates. If that works, he says he hopes to introduce the therapy to humans.

Image courtesy of Flickr.

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