Experimental gene therapy offers hope to diabetics
April 30, 1997
Web posted at: 8:11 p.m. EDT (0011 GMT)
From Medical Correspondent Jeff Levine
(CNN) -- Researchers have discovered a gene that may lead to
a treatment for diabetes by regenerating the cells that
normally produce insulin in the body.
Diabetics don't produce enough insulin to control sugar
levels in their bodies. The gene known as ingap could help by
jump-starting production of the vital hormone made by the
pancreas. The gene produces a protein that already has
reversed diabetes in some lab animals.
"If you could rejuvenate your pancreas to make new islets
capable of secreting insulin, you could cure diabetes. We
certainly have done that in animals," Dr. Aaron Vinik of
Eastern Virginia Medical School said.
Vinik hopes to do the same in humans.
"We'll be able to treat people with the protein, or we'll be
able to treat with the gene and use gene therapy. The
alternative is we may be able to find methods of turning on
the protein or turning on the gene within the human body," he
Vinik's findings are published in the latest issue of the
Journal of Clinical Investigation.
Eli Lilly and Co. has bought the rights to the gene's
products, although any drug is probably five years away from
being marketed -- if it wins approval from the U.S. Food and
Diabetes can be controlled with insulin injections, oral
medication or diet. But there can be serious side effects.
The illness affects an estimated 16 million Americans.
The ingap gene offers a more natural approach than insulin
injections, if it can survive the body's immune defenses.
"It is true that these islets will be attacked, but I suspect
that in the next few years we'll have certain forms of
therapy that, perhaps, can help us prevent the attack," said
Dr. Derek LeRoith of the National Institutes of Health.
For years, researchers have hoped they could restore normal
insulin levels in diabetics. The ingap gene is one of many
ideas aimed at saving the nearly 170,000 Americans who will
die from diabetes-related illnesses this year.
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