Melbourne researchers’ diabetes discovery could reduce need for insulin injections

Diabetes researchers say they have made a breakthrough that could pave the way to eliminating the need for daily insulin injections.

The Monash University research, published in the journal Nature Signal Transduction and Targeted Therapy, may lead to the regeneration of insulin in pancreatic stem cells.

Insulin is a hormone, made by so-called pancreatic beta cells, that helps regulate blood sugar.

Generally speaking, people with diabetes don’t naturally produce enough insulin or their body doesn’t use the hormone as it should. The beta cells of many people with diabetes are unable to produce insulin at all.

“There are different forms of diabetes and it is a disease that requires constant attention,” said Keith Al-Hasani, a Monash University researcher and one of the study’s authors.

Type 1 diabetes typically first appears when patients are children, which Dr. Al-Hasani said often meant up to five insulin injections a day as young people adjusted to the disease. Affected adults can administer up to 100 injections per month to manage the condition.

Dr. Keith Al-Hasani, wearing a white coat, smiles calmly at the camera.
Study co-author Keith Al-Hasani says the research could lead to a cost-effective treatment.(ABC News: Rosanne Maloney)

After a 13-year-old child died with type 1 diabetes, researchers studied donated pancreatic cells and used a compound to trigger insulin production.

“We’re reprogramming cells that don’t usually produce insulin, to express insulin now,” said researcher and study co-author Ishant Khurana.

The compound GSK126 is approved for use to treat another condition by the United States Food and Drug Administration, but has not been used for the treatment of diabetes in Australia or elsewhere.

Dr. Ishant Khurana, wearing a white coat, smiles broadly at the camera.
Ishant Khurana says the team’s work could improve the quality of life for people with diabetes. (ABC News: Rosanne Maloney)

Although the researchers studied stem cells, they did not genetically modify the cells to achieve their results.

The authors acknowledged that there was still a long way to go before the potential treatment could be used in humans.

They then want to collect more pancreatic cell samples from more people and then move on to animal trials before eventually starting human clinical trials.

The end goal, Dr. Khurana said, was to eliminate the need for daily injections and pancreas transplants.

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