DENVER (CBS4) – Diabetes researchers are celebrating a major scientific breakthrough that could be a step toward a cure for Type 1 diabetes.

“All of us would hope that Type 1 diabetes would be cured some day and despite all the good efforts by many bright scientists, we haven’t seen a cure. This … of all intents and purposes … looks like a step in the right direction,” said Dr. Mike McDermott, Director of Endocrinology and Diabetes Practice at University of Colorado Hospital.

Researchers at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute found a way to grow millions of insulin-producing cells using human stem cells. In healthy bodies, cells automatically read the level of sugars in the blood and secrete insulin to help in metabolism. In the body of a Type 1 diabetic, the immune system has destroyed those insulin-producing cells and so the person has to regulate blood sugars themselves. The research at Harvard is the first step in replacing insulin-producing cells in the body.

“I think that this is a positive enough step that many of us could see this going to clinical trials, maybe in a few years, maybe a couple of years,” McDermott added.

McDermott treats patients with diabetes every day. He sees this research as the solution to half the equation that would eventually get Type 1 diabetics off insulin injections.

“The first challenge is to make the cells. It looks like they’ve done a good job at that. The second challenge is to keep the body from rejecting those cells,” McDermott explained.

Researchers have been working on ways to stop the body from rejecting transplanted insulin-producing cells, but so far the immune system has been too strong. While there is still a long way to go, researchers say it’s a major accomplishment to be able to grow the insulin-producing cells in large enough batches that could be transplanted into the body.

“I am cautiously optimistic, you know, we have been very encouraged by things in the past that never did pan out,” McDermott said.

Additional Information

You can support diabetes research happening right here in Colorado by taking part in the Step Out Walk To Stop Diabetes. The 5K walk and officially-timed 10K run are put on by the American Diabetes Society. They expect about 2,000 runners and walkers on Saturday, Nov. 1 at the Downtown Aquarium. They hope to raise $325,000 which will go to 11 Colorado researchers as well as other ADA programs.

–Written for CBSDenver. by Special Projects Producer Libby Smith


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