The Latest Cure

Injected Spleen Cells Reverse Type 1 in Mice

| Mar 1, 2004

In November 2003 the news was everywhere. “Juvenile diabetes cured in lab mice!” proclaimed the November 14, 2003, edition of The Boston Globe.

“Breakthrough sparks diabetes hope,” the BBC announced.

A discovery by a team led by Denise Faustman, MD, PhD, of the Massachusetts General Hospital in Charlestown, Massachusetts, raised the hopes of type 1s and their families everywhere. In her laboratory, Faustman injected live spleen cells from healthy nondiabetic mice into mice with type 1. The spleen cells were then turned into insulin-producing islets, completely and permanently reversing type 1 in the mice—even in those close to death.

The discovery was a surprise to the researchers themselves, who had been attempting to address the autoimmunity problem of diabetes. They were amazed to find that the pancreas spontaneously regenerated itself once autoimmunity was resolved.

"We had not only reversed autoimmunity, but had regenerated islets in the pancreas,” Faustman says. “It was a surprise to find that the pancreas had immense regenerative potential. We didn’t think we were doing that!” The results of the study were published in the November 14, 2003, issue of Science.

We’ve Heard It All Before

The cure for type 1 diabetes has been on the horizon for decades, right?

Pancreas transplants, islet transplants and drugs that prevent or slow the progression of beta cell destruction appear in the headlines regularly.

But the new therapies never seem to reach the general public.

Even the much-celebrated Edmonton Protocol of 2000 has been showing signs of failure lately, as several participants have gone back to insulin therapy.

But Faustman says her discovery is different. Other attempts at cures, she points out, don’t address the true underlying problem of type 1 diabetes-they merely address the symptoms.

“When you replace beta cells or transplant a pancreas, the autoimmunity does not go away. We decided that autoimmunity was the big bad thing that we had to deal with. We had to work at reversing established autoimmunity.”

Mice Actually Had Type 1 All Along

In order to deal with the underlying autoimmunity, Faustman’s team used mice that actually developed type 1 through an autoimmune malfunction.

“Most mouse experiments done in the past were done on mice that were not spontaneously diabetic or were very early in their disease prior to hyperglycemia, and thus the issues of recurrent disease are hard to adequately evaluate. Those mice did not have an autoimmune problem.”

Faustman and her team injected healthy donor spleen cells to train new immune cells not to attack the insulin-producing islets and expected to transplant donor islet cells once the “re-education” had occurred.

However, they were surprised to find that healthy islets spontaneously reappeared. The spleen cells migrated to the pancreases of the mice, apparently prompting regeneration of the beta cells, returning the pancreas into a healthy insulinmaking organ and ending diabetes.

Detractors Come Out of the Woodwork

Other experts, however, remain wary of this or any other “breakthrough” that promises a cure while still in early stages of study.

“I know that patients are desperate for a cure,” says Fred Levine, MD, a researcher at the University of California San Diego Cancer Center who works in the area of human beta cell growth and differentiation, “but it is very difficult. This is an early finding that deserves to be pursued, but should be regarded cautiously.”

Levine points out that other supposedly exciting cures turned out to be false hopes.

“A whole host of papers claimed to show that embryonic stem cells could be differentiated into stem cells,” he says. “Many of those papers have suffered from an experimental flaw, and it turned out that embryonic stem cells did not become stem cells.”

Mehboob Hussain, MD, of the Department of Medicine and Pharmacology at the New York University School of Medicine, earlier this year published a paper showing that islets could be regenerated using bone marrow (see “A New Islet Source on the Horizon,” May 2003 Diabetes Health). Hussain expressed both hope and restraint in his assessment of Faustman’s findings.

“It is an important finding if it can be corroborated,” he says. “It’s like a double whammy, if through one single manipulation both problems can be resolved. That there is a way of getting the immune system into a situation so that it doesn’t attack islet or beta cells, and at the same time, the [manipulation] can lead to regeneration of beta cells-that’s a really big step forward.”

Hussain advises, however, that we need to be careful when interpreting Faustman’s results.

“In general, we know that mice are not men,” he says. “Findings in the mouse might not be translatable to humans….Personally, I am on the pessimistic side, and I think it will take at least a decade before a cure for type 1 is developed. There is lots of work to be done.”

Camillo Ricordi, MD, scientific director and chief academic officer of the Diabetes Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine, also expressed reservations about the study.

“There have been many studies in which autoimmunity has been prevented or reversed in… mice, and time will tell whether this is a new breakthrough or if it will be filed in the curiosity section,” he says.

Correct Autoimmunity and Diabetes Will Reverse Itself

Faustman, on the other hand, remains extremely optimistic-and not just for curing diabetes, but for curing all autoimmune disorders.

“Potentially you could just reverse the autoimmune disease, and the disease will automatically reverse itself,” she says. “Even in mice that had no islet cells, regeneration occurred. You don’t need an islet transplant! We think we have a fundamental understanding of some of these pathways that cause disease. Probably they will have broad applicability to all autoimmune illnesses.”

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Posted by Anonymous on 28 April 2008

I have been a Type I diabetic since 1970. Since then, my life has been a 24 hour a day nightmare. There is never a break or a vacation. I am tired! Thirty-eight years with the disease is long enough.

Dr. Faustman should be able to get funding somewhere, from someone with deep pockets. Look to Bill Gates or Warren Buffett.

Please quit procrastinating. I beg you for a cure!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by Anonymous on 5 June 2008

This is the greatest that I ever heard, inwhole my life. now my tears terrably flighing coz my ever love my Mom suffering of diabetics and will highlly appreciated if u guys just help me please to just give the right cure to my Mother , my all hope in u guys now iam crying and can't wait but will be paitient till then , u understand my terrable situation and Iam ready to do evry thing for uguys. with all my love and hope and my best and great regards to Denise Faustman, MD, PhD, of the Massachusetts General Hospital in Charlestown. Alex from the netherlands -Amsterdam

Posted by Anonymous on 13 December 2008

god speed

Posted by Anonymous on 25 January 2009

My husband of 21 years has been a diabetic our entire lives together - I too am tired of this thing - a cure is our hope - I never sleep as I need to always keep one eye on him, I worry all the time of low sugars that cause him to be so sick - we need a cure - Keep working PLEASE! Thank you.

Posted by Anonymous on 23 May 2009

I have type 2 daibetic. I do not take sugar and fodds made of flour.I take grains as much as possible. Since I am a rice eater I take only boiled rice 2 times a day with vegetable curries

Posted by Anonymous on 24 June 2009

I was diagosed with type1 two weeks ago, since then searching websites to see if there are any good news. It looks like this article was posted on 2004, not sure if there are any further updates ?

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