Can synthetic biology finally cure the autoimmune disease?
Type 1 diabetes is a discouraging disease. Despite the availability of synthetic insulin and increasingly sophisticated monitoring technology, it’s still a condition that requires incessant vigilance: Diabetics must constantly track their blood sugar levels and carefully use that information to calibrate drug doses. Even if you manage to do all of that well, bad days remain almost inevitable. Take too much insulin, and you can spiral into a hypoglycemic delirium. Take too little, and your glucose levels will rise, filling the body with dangerous levels of ketones.
Less immediately frustrating—but no less familiar for diabetics—is the state of diabetes research. Possible cures routinely pop up only to fade from view, their benefits never quite surpassing the simple efficacy of an insulin injection. More recently, though, the field of synthetic biology—a hybrid discipline that aims to construct or redesign biological components and systems—has shown the potential to produce a novel set of treatments. The solutions remain speculative, but they do offer cautious reasons for hope.
“Type 1 diabetes, in theory, should be relatively easy to solve. That has been the mantra of researchers for the last 30 years. And I still take insulin every day.”
John Glass, a researcher working on one such new effort, knows how maddening false hope can be, having lived with the disease for decades. “Type 1 diabetes, in theory, should be relatively easy to solve,” he told me over the phone. “That has been the mantra of type 1 diabetes researchers for the Continue reading