Dogs Lead the Way

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For the first time, gene therapy is found to cure Type 1 diabetes in large animals

Diabetes, we have long known, is a lifestyle disease with no cure. And that it is manageable with changes in diet, exercise and some medication. That is true for Type 2 diabetes. But Type 1, where the pancreas produce practically no insulin, means lifelong dependence on insulin injections. Scientists have now found what is potentially a cure for it, but only in animals so far.

Science Daily has reported that a Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) team managed to cure Type 1 diabetes in dogs with a gene therapy session. And it was not complicated. Injections using ordinary needles was all that was required for symptoms to disappear. The researchers introduced a gene vector that made the pancreas of dogs produce insulin. The other thing it forced the body to create was an enzyme, gulcokinase, which regulates how glucose is absorbed into the blood. The report says, ‘When both genes act simultaneously they function as a ‘glucose sensor’, which automatically regulates the uptake of glucose from the blood, thus reducing diabetic hyperglycemia (the excess of blood sugar associated with the disease).’

For the study, published in the journal Diabetes, the UAB researchers purchased male Beagle dogs 6-12 months old. Diabetes was induced in them using a ‘single intravenous injection of a mixture of streptozotocin and alloxan’. After two-four weeks of this, AAV gene vectors were injected in 12-25 places on the thigh.

The results were almost immediate. It resulted ‘in rapid return to fasting normoglycemia and normoinsulinemia, recovery of body weight and long-term survival.’ The gene transfer, they found, was better than insulin treatment. A similar cure for humans is a long way off. Even for large animals, the researchers say that further studies will be needed to determine the range at which the production of insulin and glucokinase is optimal. Meanwhile, they write: ‘A proposed clinical trial in diabetic pet dogs will greatly help defining the safety and efficacy profile of our approach in humans.’