MU Researchers Find Possible Cure for Type 1 Diabetes

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COLUMBIA - A University of Missouri scientist claims to have discovered a potential cure for type 1 diabetes--also known as juvenile diabetes--using bone marrow cells and a new drug. Habib Zaghouani has researched autoimmune diseases for 12 years at the MU School of Medicine. Zahouani used to focus his research on multiple sclerosis, which is another autoimmune disease. He expanded his research to include type 1 diabetes after his brother was diagnosed around twenty-five years ago. Zaghouani's research is published in Diabetes, an American Diabetes Association's research publication.

While Zaghouani and his team, an average of ten students, ended up discovering a potential cure for type 1 diabetes, the team was expecting a different result from its research on the beta cells within the pancreas that produce insulin. With type 1 diabetes, the beta cells are damaged by the autoimmune system and can no longer produce enough insulin.

"Actually, we thought that when we bred the disease with the drug, before diagnosis it would delay the onset of the disease. We were happy with that, but when we tried it after the disease is diagnosed, it didn't work," Zaghouani said. "So we said maybe there weren't beta cells left to build up and cure the disease. So we tried to supplement with bone marrow cells in the hope to supply some beta cells so we can rejuvenate the whole system."

The results did demonstrate a growth in beta cells. The beta cells, however, did not come from the team transferring cells from another mouse. The beta cells were regrown in the mouse's own bone marrow.

"So, we then tried to determine what did the bone marrow that we transferred do, how did it help the disease recover? We found out that it is actually helping build up the blood vessels around the pancreatic islets." Zaghouani said.

In simple terms, Zaghouani and his team of students found that, in order to cure type 1 diabetes, they needed to repair the blood vessels. The repaired blood vessels allow the beta cells to grow and therefore distribute insulin throughout the body.

 Zaghouani said more research needs to be done before the team can proceed to testing its research on humans.

"We still need to do more research to figure out how we get the blood vessels built up. But the immediate need is to create the human version of the drug so that we can move on with the clinical trial," Zaghouani said.

The team has one patent for the drug as a preventive measure and applied for a second patent. The second patent is for the most recent findings, the drug that deals with stem cells and reversal of type 1 diabetes.

"We applied (for the first patent) in 2004 and we got it approved about three years ago." Zaghouani said. While the most recent patent hasn't been approved, the team can continue with researching and producing the human version of the drug.

"Approval of the patent and taking the drug to clinical trial don't interfere with each other." Zaghouani said. "You can proceed with producing the human version of the drug and you can proceed with the clinical trial, you can even produce the drug and treat people with it while the patent is still an application."

Zaghouani and his team need to raise funds in order to create the human drug. Once the team secures the funding, the human version of the drug can be produced. Once the drug is produced, the team will meet with pharmaceutical companies. The pharmaceutical companies will evaluate the teams technology and decide whether the research will move on to a clinical trial.

"We are working very hard and I think with the appropriate progress we will be able to develop the human version of the drug and then apply and get approval for the clinical trial." Zaghouani said. "So we can get the process moving and hopefully re-establish the life of so many."

According to the Centers for Disease Control, there were 15,600 youths diagnosed with type 1 diabetes annually from 2002 to 2005.