Diabetes is characterized by high blood sugar. The cause of high blood sugar differs for people with type 1 versus type 2 diabetes. For type 1 diabetics, the pancreas produces little or no insulin, the hormone responsible for lowering blood sugar. For type 2 diabetics, tissues in the body are not responsive to insulin, termed insulin resistance, resulting in persistently elevated blood sugar. Muscle tissue is the main site of glucose disposal in the body and therefore, the main site of insulin’s action.
Researchers from Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona in Spain had developed a successful technique of reversing diabetes in mouse models by creating a glucose sensor in the animal’s muscle. They accomplished this through gene therapy to induce the expression of insulin along with the glucose-sensing enzyme glucokinase. In mice, this treatment lowered blood sugar by increasing uptake of glucose into muscle tissue.
In a new study published online in Diabetes, the authors report using the same technique to lower blood sugar in type 1 diabetic dogs! The genes for glucokinase and insulin became incorporated into the animal’s DNA and the technique was effective for over 4 years after treatment. This was reportedly the first instance of this technique being successful in the chronic treatment of diabetes in a large animal model. In fact, they state that the animals no longer needed medical treatment for their diabetes and did not experience pathologically lowered blood sugar when they exercised.
More research is required to determine if a similar treatment would work in humans.
Callejas D, Mann CJ, Ayuso E, Lage R, Grifoll I, Roca C, Andaluz A, Ruiz-de Gopegui R, Montane J, Munoz S, Ferre T, Haurigot V, Zhou S, Ruberte J, Mingozzi F, High K, Garcia F, Bosch F. Treatment of Diabetes and Long-term Survival Following Insulin and Glucokinase Gene Therapy. Diabetes. Epub ahead of print. doi:10.2337/db12-1113