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In a new stem cell study, a cure for Type 1 diabetes appears tantalizingly close

0 2 years ago

An estimated 10 percent of the U.S. population has been diagnosed with diabetes, a number that may be apt to rise in the near future. Peculiarly, the reason for that may have to do with the pandemic. Since the pandemic’s onset, researchers have found a link between contracting COVID-19 and an increased risk of receiving a diabetes diagnosis months later — especially in children, as one study showed that COVID-19 receptors can reduce insulin levels and kill pancreatic beta cells.

While there is still much to learn about the connection between COVID-19 and diabetes, a potential wave of diabetes infections comes at an unprecedented time for the disease — perhaps when a cure is on the horizon.

Yes, not treatment, but cure. Long considered a holy grail of sorts for medicine, diabetes — one of the most expensive, consuming and pervasive chronic diseases — is inching towards a cure, to the extent that researchers are actually openly using that word.

“There’s a lot of exciting research underway focused on curing Type 1 diabetes,” Dr. Marlon Pragnell, vice president of research and science at the American Diabetes Association, told Salon.

In November 2021, news broke that Brian Shelton, a 64-year-old man in Ohio, might be the first person to ever be cured of type 1 diabetes. Shelton was part of a clinical trial by Vertex Pharmaceuticals, in which participants individually receive an infusion of stem cells that in turn create the insulin-producing pancreas cells the body lacks with Type 1 diabetes. In total, the study will take five years and only involve 17 people with severe cases of Type 1 diabetes.

In order to maintain safe levels of glucose in the blood, beta cells in the pancreas produce insulin. These are known as islet cells. However, when a person has Type 1 diabetes, the beta cells are destroyed by a person’s own immune system. In turn, those with Type 1 diabetes must monitor their own insulin levels, and inject themselves with insulin as needed to digest glucose.


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