U.S. researchers from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University have developed a technique for transplanting pancreatic cells secreting insulin, which causes only a very moderate response of the immune system. This discovery could have important repercussions on how to treat type 1 diabetes. This work was published in the online version of the journal Gene Therapy.
The type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease incurable. In patients suffering from this disease, the immune system attacks the beta cells producing insulin in the pancreas. Insulin helps to lower blood glucose (sugar) in blood. People with type 1 diabetes must constantly monitor their blood sugar and need daily injections of insulin.
Transplantation of pancreatic cells represents a promising alternative. Cells taken from deceased donors are injected into the patient. These new cells replace destroyed cells. The disadvantage of this method is that patients must take powerful immunosuppressive drugs to prevent rejection. Most transplant patients still end up rejecting the transplanted cells.
In this study the researchers have successfully transplanted cells make invisible recipient's immune system and protecting the rejection. They managed this by using the natural usability of a virus (adenovirus) to escape the immune system. Pancreatic cells producing insulin were transfect with three genes of adenovirus.
These modified cells were then transplanted to diabetic mice. These transplanted mice were able to maintain glucose levels in normal blood until three months after transplantation. In normal cells grafted restore normal blood sugar levels but only for a few days.
Professor Harris Goldstein, who is the principal investigator of the study, acknowledges that the concept is valid but admits he must improve technology in achieving a combination of all genes that prevent rejection.