Combining cells from bone marrow with new drug restores insulin production
Millions of people with type 1 diabetes depend on daily insulin injections to survive. They would die without the shots because their immune system attacks the very insulin-producing cells it was designed to protect. Now, a University of Missouri scientist has discovered that this attack causes more damage than scientists realized. The revelation is leading to a potential cure that combines adult stem cells with a promising new drug.
The discovery is reported in the current online issue of Diabetes, the American Diabetes Association's flagship research publication. Habib Zaghouani, PhD, J. Lavenia Edwards Chair in Pediatrics, leads the research with his team at the MU School of Medicine.
"We discovered that type 1 diabetes destroys not only insulin-producing cells but also blood vessels that support them," Zaghouani said. "When we realized how important the blood vessels were to insulin production, we developed a cure that combines a drug we created with adult stem cells from bone marrow. The drug stops the immune system attack, and the stem cells generate new blood vessels that help insulin-producing cells to multiply and thrive."
Surrounded by an army of students and a colony of mice, Zaghouani has spent the past 12 years in his lab at MU studying autoimmune diseases like type 1 diabetes. Often called juvenile diabetes, the disease can lead to numerous complications, including cardiovascular disease, kidney damage, nerve damage, osteoporosis and blindness.
Type 1 diabetes attacks the pancreas. The organ, which is about the size of a hand and located in the abdomen, houses cell clusters called islets. Islets contain beta cells that make insulin, which controls blood sugar levels. In people with type 1 diabetes, beta cells no longer make insulin because the body's immune system has attacked and destroyed them.
When the immune system strikes the beta cells, the attack causes collateral damage to capillaries that carry blood to and from the islets. The damage done to the tiny blood vessels led Zaghouani on a new path toward a cure.