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Columbia Researchers Close to Possible Breakthrough in Diabetes Treatment

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Researchers may have found a way to retrain cells in diabetics to create needed insulin—what could be a breakthrough in diabetes therapy. NY1's Erin Billups filed the following report.

The immune system destroys the insulin producing cells in type one diabetics, but researchers at Columbia University Medical Center say it's possible to teachgastrointestinal cells to make insulin by turning off a certain gene.

"We found that when that gene is inactive, cells that normally make the hormone called serotonin turn into cells that make insulin," says Columbia University Medical Center Diabetes Researcher Dr. Domenico Accili.

That gene is called FOX-O-1.

Accili and his team first successfully tested the cell transformation on mice, and in his latest study published in the Nature Journal, he shows the technique also works on human cells.

It's a different approach. Much of the research to date has focused on making surrogate insulin-producing cells from stem cells.

Accili says there are advantages to using the gut cells.

"We’re taking a cell that has all the basic machinery to make hormones and we’re converting it into making insulin, so we’re not asking as much of a cell as one would be by using stem cells," Accili says.

The next step is to develop a chemical compound that could eventually lead to a revolutionary new drug for type one and possibly even type two diabetes patients.

"Having a drug that is given by mouth, hopefully once a month or even less frequently, and that eliminates the need for patients to constantly prick their fingers to measure what their blood sugar is, not to mention the constant insulin injections would be totally transformative," Accili says.

The treatment was only tried on a small number of type one diabetes patients.

"It could be envisioned that rather than giving patients with type two diabetes extra insulin, we would apply this treatment and then that could be used to normalize blood sugar," Accili says.

Accili says it could take another two years before they have a drug to begin clinical trials on.

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