Diabetics across the world received some good news earlier this month, as researchers found a new way to produce insulin — which keeps blood sugar levels stable and is something diabetics lack — using human skin cells.
Specifically, researchers converted human skin cells into pancreatic cells, which produced insulin in a way that could help people avoid getting diabetes.
For their research, the scientists reprogramed cells into an early developmental form of a cell, which they then made into pancreatic cells in a procedure that’s been used to make heart, brain and liver cells in the past, Science Daily reported.
“Most importantly, these cells protected mice from developing diabetes in a model of disease, having the critical ability to produce insulin in response to changes in glucose levels,” Science Daily reported.
Though the new research, done by Gladstone Institutes, used mice as models to treat the disease, the success of this study shows that researchers are a step closer to doing a similar study with human subjects, especially since human cells were used, Science Daily reported.
“Our results demonstrate for the first time that human adult skin cells can be used to efficiently and rapidly generate functional pancreatic cells that behave similar to human beta cells,” Matthias Hebrok, Ph.D., co-senior author on the study, said. “This finding opens up the opportunity for the analysis of patient-specific pancreatic beta cell properties and the optimization of cell therapy approaches.”
This is just the latest piece of research that scientists have unveiled to help people live with diabetes. An upcoming conference in Mississippi, the Diabetes Foundation of Mississippi’s Super Conference, will look to further educate scientists and families about different ways people can live with diabetes using new technology.
“There’s such a critical need for this knowledge, especially in Mississippi where we struggle mightily with type 2 diabetes,” the foundation’s president, Rick Carlton, told The Clarion-Ledger.
Diabetes is a medical condition that 1.4 million Americans are diagnosed with every year. The disease is segmented into two kinds: type 1 or type 2 diabetes. With type 1, patients will have a complete lack of insulin, where as those with type 2 have some insulin or can’t use it fully. Most people who have diabetes have type 1, according to WebMD. In 2012, 1.25 million Americans alone had type 1 diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association.
It’s also a major medical issue among young Americans. In fact, about 208,000 Americans under the age of 20 have diabetes, which is about 25 percent of that population, the ADA explained. From 2008 to 2009, there were about 23,000 new cases of diabetes among the youth, with the majority of children getting diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.
Diabetes can be a dangerous condition for those who have it, even though many still get their insulin through shots or pumps, keeping them alive.
In 2010, it was the seventh-leading cause of death, having been listed more than 230,000 times on death certificates. But it’s also an underreported cause of death. As the ADA found, research says only 35 to 40 percent of people who have diabetes and died listed it as a cause of death, and 10 to 15 percent cited it as an actual cause of death.
These causes of death are in addition to the other medical conditions diabetes creates, including increases in heart attack rates, blindness and kidney disease, the ADA explained.
But, as The Clarion-Ledger noted, there’s been some improvement with the rise of technology. Some of these devices constantly monitor a patient’s blood sugar and insulin levels to help diabetics keep track of their levels and let them know when they need insulin.
For example, the iLet device, also known as a bionic pancreas, tests a patient’s sugar level and insulin level and then will release them when “sugars are too high, but the hormone glucagon when blood sugar levels are too low,” The Clarion-Ledger reported.
“Our system totally relieves the patient and the family from needing to make any decisions,” Scott Scolnick, a researcher at Boston University, told The Clarion-Ledger. “The diabetes management that takes up so much time and energy not only physically but psychologically, we take that away by our subjects wearing this device.”
But Scolnick says there’s a lot of research still to be done for curing diabetes. Scientists continue to look for ways to cure the disease overall, he said.
Della Matheson, who will speak at the Mississippi conference, agreed.
“We’re launching into a new era of looking at the issue in a more complex way to stop the autoimmune process.”