Cure for diabetes? University of Alberta researchers believe they've found one

Published Nov. 17, 2020 2:47 p.m. ET

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EDMONTON -- Scientists at the University of Alberta say they may have discovered a cure for diabetes.

So far, the research team has been able to cure diabetes in mice using a new stem cell process, and is hopeful that process will translate to humans.

The lead researcher on the project, Dr. James Shapiro, told CTV News Edmonton that his team at the U of A was able to collaborate with experts from around the world to turn a patient's own blood into insulin-producing islet cells.

"So now we're at the point where we can reliably manufacture insulin producing cells from patients' blood who have Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes and we have been doing this now for the last several months in the lab," he said. "Putting these cells into diabetic mice and reversing diabetes to the point where essentially their diabetes is cured."

Twenty years ago, the same Dr. Shapiro made medical history with the "Edmonton Protocol," a procedure that gives patients new insulin-producing cells, thanks to islet transplants from organ donors. 

That procedure, though, necessitates the use of powerful anti-rejection medications which carry significant side effects.

Dr. Shapiro says this new stem cell process would eliminate that problem.

"If they're their own cells, patients won't reject them," he said. 

According to Dr. Shapiro, more testing will be needed before his team can move its trials from animals to people.

"There needs to be preliminary data and ideally a handful of patients that would demonstrate to the world that this is possible and that it's safe and effective."

More money is also needed in order to purchase equipment for the research, he said.

The lead researcher says lack of funding is a major research hurdle.

That's why a small group of volunteers is aiming to raise $22 million by 2022 to fund further research with Diabetes Research Institute Foundation Canada.

Dr. Shapiro hopes the financial help will allow him to prove to government that the science works.

According to the World Health Organization, there are roughly 422 million people living with diabetes globally, with 1.6 million deaths directly attributed to diabetes each year.

 

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Carmen Leibel


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