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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Diabetes Research-Are We Close To A Cure?

The Scourge of Diabetes and Research for a Cure
This article is about Type 1 diabetes, which occurs in childhood or young adulthood and is not diet related. My brother, Russell was struck with Type 1 diabetes when he was 3 years old, shortly after his exposure to chicken pox (from his older school-age siblings). For the next 42 years and 345 days, his life was hellish. When he was a teenager a physician told him he wouldn’t live to be 30. His life can be summed up in numbers; 3 amputations, 3 kidney failures, 1 kidney-pancreas transplant, 3 times a week to the dialysis center, 1 heart surgery, 1 marriage, 1 divorce, 0 children,  and one final note on the ventilator. His long suffering and tragic result does not have to be your story or that of your loved one, because the Benaroya Research Institute has been working on a cure for diabetes for decades and is on the verge of a break through. The Benaroya Research Institute is an example of one of the things that is right about U.S. healthcare-we still have money to invest in research, which can be funded through private foundations, in concert with the National Institutes of Health, a federal agency.
T Cells and the Tetramer Lab
Last week, I had the opportunity to tour a scientific lab and listen to a scientist who has been conducting research to cure diabetes for fifteen years. In the Tetramer lab, blood studies are conducted on thymus or T cells, because they are most closely associated with the bodies’ endocrine functions. T cells have differing characteristics which influence cell behavior, such as whether the bodies’ immune system starts to attack itself. Research on T cell behavior aims to identify the causes of the cellular war fare and deprogram these aberrant cells from this destructive behavior. The Benaroya Research Institute or BRI has been using this same cell line for research since the 1980’s. Tetramer is a pink fluid and 4 cells are optimal to complete scientific tests on the cellular matter. BRI now has enough human bio samples to account for 97% of the U.S. population.  Though BRI is conducting research on links to cellular characteristics for Type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and other autoimmune diseases are also being studied, because of the link to cellular behavior attacking the immune system.  Diseases which are under active research at BRI include:

  • ·         Type 1 diabetes

  • ·         Rheumatoid arthritis

  • ·         Multiple sclerosis

  • ·         Inflammatory bowel disease

  • ·         Asthma

Diagnosing Risk of Diabetes Before Symptoms Are Visible
One of the most promising areas of research is looking for ways to reprogram T cells before diabetes starts. Currently diabetes is thought to have three stages, where the first, like heart disease, shows no symptoms, and blood sugar levels are normal. However, in this dormant stage the immune system has already started attacking cells which control endocrine functions. In stage two, the blood sugar levels are abnormal, and finally in stage three, the symptoms of diabetes are present, which eventually lead to the pancreas ceasing to supply insulin. By conducting clinical trials using donated blood, scientists are able to determine an individual’s risk for diabetes and other autoimmune diseases. Just like cancer, by diagnosing the presence or vulnerability for a disease earlier, less damage is done, and the prognosis for the patient is better.
Gene Editing
Benaroya Science Institute is working on gene editing which involves using cells from study participants who have working pancreas and then engineering the same cell responses in patients who have nonfunctioning pancreas. The updated cells are then injected back into the patient’s blood stream and they begin their recovery work on the T cell attacks in the pancreas. This is like a checkmate on internal gene war fare. T cell therapy is a method of using revamped thymus or T cells to correct the autoimmune defects in the body. By engineering targeted gene responses, specific to each disease, only aspects related to that disease are suppressed, not the entire immune system. This of course makes the treatment much less invasive.
What You Can Do To Help
If you want to help cure Type 1 diabetes and continue the research that Benaroya Research Institute is doing, here are some things you can do:
·         Sign up to participate in the TrialNet study if you are a family member of someone diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes (T1D). This means your blood will be tested for markers of diabetes and you will be assessed for risk and monitored. There is no cost to participate and all of the testing is free and can be done anywhere in the world.

  • ·         Adults of primary family members with (T1D) must be under 45 to participate in the study and have a parent, child, brother or sister with type 1 diabetes.

  • ·         Secondary family members of people with (T1D) must be 1 to 20 years old and have a niece, nephew, aunt, uncle, grandparent, half-brother, half-sister, or cousin with type 1 diabetes.

  • ·         Make a donation to the BRI Biobank for cellular research in anyone of 12 disease vectors.

  • ·         Donate money to the Benaroya Research Institute.

  • ·         Sponsor a fundraiser for the Benaroya Research Institute.

  • ·         Tell others about the research at the Benaroya Research Institute.

For more information on the work at the Benaroya Research Institute (BRI), go to their web site or call 206-342-6500.

Who knows, maybe in your lifetime we will have a vaccination for diabetes?

The information in this article is based on materials provided by the Benaroya Research Institute and my tour of the science lab on March 25, 2016.  This article was written by Roberta E. Winter, who publishes under the trademark, healthpolicymaven. She is the author of


Connie Simoni said...

Well this is one of those times when I feel old because I'm too old to participate in the study. The article was very interesting and it's always good to hear that we are getting closer to a cure for diabetes and hopefully for many of the other auto immune diseases that affect so many people. I will be following the Benaroya Research Institute.

healthpolicymaven said...

Research shows that having one autoimmune disease makes it much for likely additional ones are also diagnosed and rheumatoid arthritis is one of those. BRI is conducting research on autoimmune diseases as a whole, but they are most known for their research in diabetes. BRI is also the lead investigator in the TrialNet study. This means they are the coordinator and analyst for 22 global sites which are participating in this landmark study.