Stepping toward regenerative medicine for diabetes
“Son, you need to live fast and loose because you’re not going to live very long,” the doctor told ten-year-old Chris Stiehl. It was 1961 and Stiehl had just been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. “Back then,” he says, “prognoses were not very good, and treatments weren’t real good either.”
Stiehl and other people with this type of diabetes, many of whom are diagnosed as children, have difficulty maintaining normal blood sugar levels. To survive, they depend on injections of insulin, a hormone that clears sugar from the blood so that it can be used as energy.
Without tight control of blood sugar levels, patients with diabetes risk heart and artery damage that shortens lives by about 10 years on average. Stiehl—a husband, father and retired engineer—is one of just 3,000 people in the United States who has survived for more than 50 years with the disease. Even with modern interventions, including continuous glucose monitors, insulin pumps and both long- and fast-acting forms of insulin, blood sugar highs and lows still plague patients.
Type 1 diabetes occurs when a person’s immune system mistakenly attacks and kills cells in the pancreas called beta cells. These are the cells that secrete insulin and allow the body to regulate blood sugar levels. With too few beta cells, patients with type 1 diabetes must take over that function themselves.
Now, however, a group of Novartis researchers has found a way to get human beta cells to regenerate, a feat many had dismissed as impossible. The work, published online in Nature Communications on Oct. 26, is still in i Continue reading