Diabetes is one of the fastest growing diseases in the world, but as yet there exists no known cure for the malady.
Now, as part of an international collaboration, researchers at Sweden’s Uppsala University will attempt to reprogram cells involved in insulin production, in the hopes of reversing the course of Type 1 diabetes.
Diabetes is one of the world’s most widespread diseases. However, it is unclear exactly how many people are affected.
Virtually everywhere in the world, the number of diabetes patients is steadily increasing.
“Type 1 diabetes, in which our immune system attacks our insulin-producing cells, has become twice as common in the last 30 years. We know that the disease is linked to environmental factors, but we can’t possibly define which ones exist, nor do we know of any preventative measures that can be taken. Type 2 diabetes, which is much more common, is linked to obesity and early detection and lifestyle changes can slow its progression. However, we currently lack the resources to examine everyone who might be at risk,” explains Per-Ola Carlsson, Professor of Medical Cell Biology at Uppsala University.
People have tended to develop Type 1 diabetes at a young age, whereas Type 2 diabetes mainly affects people later in their lives.
For some time, however, a shift has been occurring in both directions, and there are reports from the United States of three-year-old children who develop Type 2 diabetes.
Both diseases remain chronic, and the industry has largely focused on improving the medical treatments used to combat them, as well as the development of blood sugar monitoring technology, which facilitates the practical aspects of living with diabetes.
For their part, researchers at universities throughout the world devote greater attention to the potential possibility of slowing (and hopefully reversing) the progression of the disease.
“In Type 1 diabetes, which is the focus of my research group, our work has to do with both stopping the immune system’s attack and saving and restoring the amount of insulin-producing cells. We will soon commence a study in which stem cells from umbilical cords will be transferred to patients who have recently developed Type 1 diabetes, in order to see if we can protect their remaining insulin-producing cells. We’re also working with reprogramming skin cells into insulin-producing cells. These can be used to treat diabetes in mice, but much work remains before the technique can result in a workable treatment for humans,” says Per-Ola Carlsson.
It is pertinent to note here that Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system destroys cells in the pancreas.
Typically, the disease first appears in childhood or early adulthood. Type 1 diabetes used to be known as juvenile-onset diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM), but the disease can have an onset at any age