Researchers at Yonsei University in Korea and the University of Calgary in Canada recently announced they had developed a gene therapy cure for mice suffering from type I insulin. In type I insulin, which afflicts millions of people, the body doesn’t produce enough insulin because the insulin-producing beta cells within the pancreas are destroyed.
The genetic therapy cure involved injecting mice with a virus that contained a gene designed to spur insulin production. After receiving the treatment, the animals’ blood sugar levels remained stable for the eight month period of the study.
Because of differences in mouse and human physiology, there are still enormous obstacles that would have to be overcome before such gene therapy could be a viable treatment option in human beings. It is an important first step in that direction. It wasn’t too long ago that proof that genetically modified cells could be made to produce insulin was heralded as an important step forward. Now by demonstrating that complex organisms such as mice can be successfully treated in this way provides enormous hope that this century will likely be the last in which type I diabetes is a significant health problem.
Jerrold Olefsky of the University of California-San Diego, in a commentary on the research published in Nature, wrote that, “Despite these issues, the paper represents a good example of how basic research can applied to problems of clinical significance.”
And also a prime example of why basic research on animal models must continue.
Gene therapy used to cure rodents with diabetes. Reuters, November 23, 2000.