Melbourne researchers’ diabetes breakthrough could reduce need for insulin injections

Diabetes researchers say they have made a breakthrough that could pave the way to eliminating the need for daily insulin injections.

The Monash University research, published in the Nature journal Signal Transduction and Targeted Therapy, could lead to the regeneration of insulin in pancreatic stem cells.

Insulin is a hormone, made by what are known as beta cells in the pancreas, which helps to regulate blood sugar levels. 

Broadly, people with diabetes do not naturally produce enough insulin, or their bodies do not use the hormone as they should. The beta cells in many people with diabetes are unable to produce insulin at all.

“There are different forms of diabetes and it’s a disease that requires relentless attention,” said Keith Al-Hasani, a Monash University researcher and one of the study’s authors.

Type 1 diabetes generally first presents when patients are children, which Dr Al-Hasani said often meant up to five insulin injections per day as young people adjusted to the disease. Adult sufferers can administer up to 100 shots a month to manage the illness.

Study co-author Keith Al-Hasani says the research could lead to a cost-effective treatment.(ABC News: Rosanne Maloney)

After the death of a 13-year-old with type 1 diabetes, the researchers studied donated pancreatic cells and used a compound to trigger insulin production.

“We’re reprogramming cells that don’t generally produce insulin, to express insulin now,” researcher and study co-author Ishant Khurana said.

The compound GSK126 is approved for use to treat another condition by the US Food and Drug Administration, but has not been used for diabetes treatment in Australia or elsewhere. 

Dr Ishant Khurana, wearing a white lab coat, smiles broadly at the camera.
Ishant Khurana says the team’s work could lead to improved quality of life for people with diabetes. (ABC News: Rosanne Maloney)

While the researchers studied stem cells, they did not genetically alter the cells to get their results. 

The authors acknowledged there was still a long way to go before the potential treatment could be used in humans.

They next want to collect more pancreatic cell samples from a bigger range of people, then move to animal trials before possibly beginning human clinical trials.

The end goal, Dr Khurana said, was to eliminate the need for daily injections and pancreatic transplants.

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