Washington University researchers report they have cured diabetes in rats. Lead scientist Marc Hammerman says his team transplanted pancreatic cells or primordia from embryonic pigs into rats with adult on-set or Type-2 diabetes, a process that also proved successful in juvenile diabetes.
"What we've shown is that transplantation of pig pancreatic primordia into rats that have Type-2 diabetes normalizes the glucose tolerance," says Hammerman. In other words, he explains, "It cures the diabetes. It also reverses a component of type-2 diabetes called insulin resistance."
The researchers didn't expect the reversal. Adult diabetics become resistant to the effects of insulin over 30 or 40 years. The pancreas of a diabetic would eventually wear out, would not produce enough insulin and would resist the insulin the system produced. Hammerman says the new technique could change that. "If we can extrapolate to humans with Type-2 diabetes, perhaps we will give them another 30 or 40 years before the insulin resistance recurs and overcomes that pancreas. But that's a pretty good trade."
Hammerman and colleagues next plan to test the technique in pig-to-primate transplants. Success in those studies could lead to human trials. The work was reported in the journal Transplant Immunology.