U of A researchers hopeful diabetes cure in sight; November is Diabetes Awareness Month


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A century after Canadian scientists in 1921 discovered the life-changing treatment for diabetes — insulin — Edmonton researchers are making headway on an implant that could effectively cure the disease .

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Two University of Alberta researchers spoke to Postmedia about their cutting-edge research since November is Diabetes Awareness Month . Lead investigators Greg Korbutt and Andrew Pepper are developing an implant to be placed under the skin which they hope could work as a functional cure to the disease. This includes both cells to help regulate insulin and anti-rejection drugs to ensure their body accepts the treatment.

“We’ve got extremely encouraging results in mice and transplanting insulin-producing cells into pigs,” said Korbutt. “For me, it’s nice to know that the research we do can actually benefit patients.”

Korbutt, scientific director of the university’s Alberta Cell Therapy Manufacturing facility, was part of a team that developed the groundbreaking diabetes treatment in 2000 dubbed the Edmonton Protocol. That procedure transplants insulin-producing cells into a Type 1 diabetes patient’s liver and protects them from falling into a diabetic coma.

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However, these transplant patients must also take anti-rejection drugs for the rest of their lives. This creates another set of risks, making it so the benefits of the treatment only outweigh the risks for patients with the most severe cases.

But by using an implant, with transplanted cells and anti-rejection drugs together placed just under the skin, the researchers hope more patients can safely benefit without the added risks of the life-long drug regimen.

Pepper says they’re getting close to the solution and he’s hopeful the finish line is within sight.

“It is rewarding to know that there’s hope, I think not only for patients but also for investigators and researchers that are trying to tackle this problem, that it doesn’t seem to be insurmountable.”

Korbutt and Pepper, along with other local experts, are taking part in a virtual Defeating Diabetes seminar presented by the U of A, the Alberta Diabetes Foundation and the Diabetes Research Institute Foundation Canada.