No more needles: New research could mean cure for dogs, humans with Type 1 diabetes

Okay, maybe just one needle every three months.

But one shot every 90 days sure beats daily insulin injections, if promising new research out of Purdue University bears fruit. Last week, the school released the preliminary findings of a new study: The first minimally invasive therapy to successfully reverse Type 1 diabetes within 24 hours and maintain insulin independence for at least 90 days in test subjects.

In Type 1 diabetes, the cells in the pancreas responsible for making insulin no longer function because the body’s immune system has attacked and destroyed them. Purdue scientists achieved normal glucose levels in diabetes-induced mice by injecting them with a collagen solution mixed with pancreatic cells.

The next step is a pilot clinical study in dogs with naturally occurring Type 1 diabetes, which will be conducted in collaboration with Purdue’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

“We plan to account for differences from mouse to human by helping dogs first. This way, the dogs can inform us on how well the treatment might work in humans,” said Clarissa Hernandez Stephens, first author on the work, and a graduate research assistant at Purdue.

Dogs make ideal test subjects for human diabetes research because the disease develops similarly in both species—which means dogs aren’t just being used as lab specimens: They could potentially benefit from a cure, too.

Because of that similarity, treatment of Type 1 diabetes has largely been the same in both species. Like humans, dogs need to have their glucose monitored throughout the day and insulin administered after meals until a cure is found.

In this case, a cure looks like a new set of pancreatic cells to replace islets that aren’t releasing insulin to monitor blood glucose levels.

The researchers say that 20 years of research hasn't produced an effective islet-transplantation therapy because multiple cell donors are needed, the current method of delivering islets through the portal vein of the liver is too invasive, and the human immune system tends to destroy a large percentage of transplanted islets.

Purdue’s big breakthrough: researchers changed how the islets were packaged.

First, by placing them in a collagen-containing solution, and second, as a simple subcutaneous injection instead of a complicated, invasive one that goes all the way to the liver.

The old delivery method, called pancreatic islet allo-transplantation, is a painful procedure (performed under anesthesia) in which healthy islets from the pancreas of a deceased organ donor are purified, processed, and transferred into a patient suffering from Type 1 diabetes.

In the new treatment, doctors would inject the collagen solution just under the skin, where the solution solidifies. The body recognizes the collagen and supplies it with blood flow to effect an insulin–glucose exchange.

As the scientists transition to testing the formulation in diabetic dogs, the researchers will explore the feasibility of transplanting pig islets or stem cells programmed to produce insulin, in hopes that either method will further increase donor availability.

According to Purdue, Type 1 diabetes affects about one in every 100 companion animals in the US, including dogs and cats, and approximately 1.25 million American children and adults.

For more on diabetes management, check out free tools and read the 2018 AAHA Diabetes Management Guidelines for Dogs and Cats.

Photo credit: © iStock/Nalin Prutimongkol

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