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Progress in treating diabetes

Insulin pill

Animal studies from Australia and the US have developed new ways to manage and effectively treat type 1 diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition where the immune system attacks the body, resulting in the pancreas failing to produce insulin, which regulates the amount of sugar in the blood. People with type 1 diabetes therefore need to take synthetic insulin every day to stay healthy.

In the Australian study, a team led by the University of Sydney, looked to nanotechnology to create a type of insulin, that can be taken in pill form, made from nanoscopic material.

The material is resistant to stomach acid and acts as a carrier to transport individual insulin molecules into the right place in the body.

The researchers tested the approach, in mice and monkeys, and found that after ingestion, the nano insulin (pictured) successfully controlled blood sugar without any harmful toxicity.

This overcomes one of the main challenges of oral insulin in reaching the bloodstream at sufficient concentrations to have an effect.

Meanwhile, US researchers at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Baltimore, have developed a monoclonal antibody drug, derived from mouse cells, that can prevent and reverse type 1 diabetes in mice. This could pave the way for more effective treatments for the condition and possibly even a cure.

The drug binds to beta cells, which are responsible for producing insulin in the pancreas, and protects them from attack by the immune system.

Mice that were predisposed to diabetes were given the treatment and after 35 weeks, not only did they not develop the condition, they also appeared to live longer on average than mice that had not taken the drug.

A humanised version of the antibody is still needed before it can be trialled in patients, but the researchers say that their treatment has the potential to one day eliminate the need for insulin supplements.


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