Exploring oral therapy to safeguard beta cells and treat type 1 diabetes

Administering insulin on a daily basis can be a tedious task, particularly among individuals newly diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D). To mitigate this, researchers are currently experimenting with islet (insulin-producing cells) transplantation as a promising therapy that eliminates the need for insulin injections. However, some limitations remain such as the supply of donor transplants, the need for lifelong immune suppression and graft failure (in which the recipient rejects the donor cells).

A JDRF-funded investigator at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto is currently exploring the benefits of a chemical secreted from nerve cells that is active in pancreatic islets in the treatment of people living with T1D. Dr. Gerald Prud’homme at the Keenan Research Centre for Biomedical Science has been examining the benefits of gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), which is recognized for stimulating insulin secretion and human beta cell growth. A major agent for inducing beta cell regeneration, GABA also has prominent anti-inflammatory properties that protect beta cells from injury and death under various conditions of stress.

Beta cell death often results from an autoimmune attack that is characteristic of T1D. Through this research,
Dr. Prud’homme is hopeful that novel therapeutic approaches involving GABA will lead to an increase in the survival and proliferation of pancreatic cells.

Given that GABA can be administered orally and combined with other active drugs, this study has the potential to deliver a new therapy for the prevention of diabetes in high-risk populations and for the treatment of existing disease. It may also be effective in improving the success of islet transplantation in the future.

For more informative articles on health and type 1 diabetes, visit our JDRF Blog.

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