Diabetes questions of the month

What does the future hold for diabetes research and treatment?
What diabetes questions do you have? We’ll get you answers. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

If you’re living with diabetes or have been recently diagnosed, you surely have questions and concerns about this chronic condition.

This is the next installment in a series of frequently asked questions about diabetes, with answers from a Spectrum Health team of doctors, nurses and dietitians. To see other Q&A posts, visit Health Beat’s diabetes headquarters.

Question:

I’ve heard some researchers at Harvard may have cured diabetes. Is this true?

Answer:

No. That could happen someday–and maybe, just maybe, it might happen in our lifetimes. Researchers at the Harvard Cellular Institute announced a couple of years ago that they had made an important advance. They grew hundreds of millions of insulin-producing cells in test tubes. The researchers then put glucose into the test tubes, and in response, the cells started making insulin.

The research team put some of those cells into mice with Type 1 diabetes. The mice were fed a glucose solution to see if the insulin-producing cells would have the same response in a living organism as they did in the test tubes. It worked–the blood sugar of the mice normalized. Being able to generate insulin-producing cells in a large quantity has never happened before, so this is a big advance.

Question:

When could this research possibly help people?

Answer:

The next likely step for this research is to put the insulin-producing cells in higher mammals, such as chimpanzees and other primates. The tests will continue for several years to determine if there are any bad effects. If successful, the team may move on to human trials. Conservatively, we’re probably five years away before human tests begin.

Do you have a diabetes-related question you’d like to pose to our expert? If so, comment on this story with your question, and we’ll seek to get you answers.

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