Major Issue for New Type 1 Diabetes Treatments is Funding

While type 1 diabetes is not the most common version of the disease, with only about 10% of diabetes patients having the form—characterized by a lack of insulin production in the body due to the ravages of an autoimmune disease—that hasn’t stopped researchers from attempting to find new and better ways of treating—if not curing—the lifelong condition. However, reports suggest that the major hurdle isn’t ideas or technology; it’s funding. Individuals with type 1 diabetes have to take insulin several times a day, which requires the purchase of cheap insulin syringes such as the BD ultrafine or the Easytouch insulin syringe.


Alternately, patients can use insulin pen needles, or buy insulin pump supplies for the insulin pumps that provide a constant dose of insulin throughout the day with “bolus” doses at mealtimes. New possible treatments proposed by researchers have included stem cell transplants and bionic pancreases. One recent proposal which has had success in mice, uses live cells and is struggling to find funding for human trials.


Dr. Massimo Trucco, along with his collaborator Nick Giannoukakis, working from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine needs $7 million to $10 million for a multi-site trial involving 105 people with a recent diagnosis of type 1 diabetes. Federal budgetary restrictions are making it difficult for the team—and others—to get research grants through the National Institutes of Health. The two researchers are working on a new treatment that involves the dendritic cells of the body. The study, released recently in the journal Diabetes, describes the advantages of using the patient’s own genetically engineered dendritic cells to stop the autoimmune cycle.


As diabetes treatment exists right now, patients must monitor their blood glucose levels using one of a variety of devices, and must administer their own insulin, because their bodies have destroyed their pancreas’ capabilities. While it is not necessarily difficult to find cheap insulin syringes such as the Easytouch insulin syringe or the BD Ultrafine, and alternatives such as insulin pen needles and insulin pumps exist, over time the purchases to add up to a great deal of money, particularly for insulin pump supplies.


Dr. Trucco’s team was able to earn approval and funding for a Phase I human clinical trial, which demonstrated that the therapy was safe. In essence, Dr. Trucco’s therapy involves removing some dendritic cells from the bodies of patients—the particular cell type is chosen because they’re more easily obtained and engineered than the other cell types involved in the process of diabetes—and engineering them to be tolerant to beta cells before returning the cells to the body. In this way, the dendritic cells communicate to the fighters of the immune system (T-cells) that the beta cells, which produce and regulate insulin in the body, are no longer a threat. The therapy must be done within months of diagnosis so that the highest percentage of beta cells can be saved; while it won’t completely cure blood sugar, and many type one diabetics would still need insulin, and cheap insulin syringes such as the BD ultrafine or the Easy touch insulin syringe, or potentially insulin pen needles, the dosages would be lower, and the risk of fluctuations would be decreased.

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