Health and Science

Breakthrough could revolutionize diabetes treatment

Anmar Frangoul | Special to
BSIP | Universal Images Group | Getty Images

A company has been created to develop "novel technology" to help treat type 1 diabetes and potentially negate the need for insulin injections.

The company, called Islexa, has been launched by the Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult (CGT) and the U.K.'s University of Aberdeen.

According to a release from the University of Aberdeen, the company will look to develop technology which reprograms pancreatic tissue that has been donated, turning it into "fully functional islets."

"Islets are organoids that produce multiple hormones, including insulin, and donated islets are already effectively treating severe cases of type 1 diabetes," Kevin Docherty, a professor at the University of Aberdeen, said.

The university said that the technology could offer thousands more patients with type 1 diabetes the option of an "islet transplant", which provides patients with glucose control that is both effective and long term, negating the need for insulin administration.

"Having a hugely expanded supply of lab grown islets will enable us to significantly extend this established clinical treatment," Docherty added.

Pancreatic cancer 'breakthrough' hailed

Islexa, formed after successful pre-clinical studies, will now concentrate on more pre-clinical development, the hope being that trials can take place "in the next few years."

The U.K.'s National Health Service describes diabetes as being a lifelong condition which causes blood sugar levels, or glucose, to become too high.

Insulin regulates levels of glucose in our blood. Type 1 diabetes occurs when the pancreas produces no insulin, while type 2 diabetes refers to when not enough insulin is produced, or when our body's cells "don't react to insulin."

In the U.S., the American Diabetes Association has estimated that in 2012, 29.1 million Americans had diabetes. The ADA says that diabetes cost the U.S. $245 billion in 2012, with direct medical costs accounting for $176 billion of that total.

The work at the University of Aberdeen has been undertaken as part of "activities led by a consortium" backed by the CGT. Partners include the Scottish Islet Transplant Program, the University of Edinburgh, and the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service.

"Islet transplantation can transform the lives of patients with type 1 diabetes, and in some cases can result in long term freedom from insulin injections with excellent glucose control," John Casey, lead clinician for the Islet Transplantation Program in Scotland, said in a statement.

Going forward, hopes were high. "This is a really exciting technology that has the potential to bring life-changing benefits to these patients," Keith Thompson, CEO of the CGT and Islexa director, said.

"We are delighted to be forming Islexa with the partners we've worked with so far on this project," Thompson added. "The collaboration has already delivered promising results and the formation of Islexa will accelerate the development of these lab grown islets and ultimately get this potential treatment to thousands of patients," he went on to add.