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McMaster professor aims to cure Type 1 diabetes with cell-based therapy

Diabetes sufferers typically undergo sensor tests to track blood sugar levels, regularly. A chemistry professor at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont. is working on a breakthrough that aims to cure diabetes with a cell-based therapy. Getty

A McMaster chemistry professor says scientists are on track to perfecting a cell based therapy to eliminate the need for diabetes sufferers to rely on injections and immune-suppressive drugs.

Dr. Harald Stover, who’s also a co-founder of Hamilton-based Allarta Life Sciences, says a cure for Type 1 diabetes is potentially five to 10 years away from being a reality thanks to a synthetic hydrogel transplant treatment local researchers are working on.

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“In Type 1 diabetes, patients have lost their own cells that normally regulate their blood sugar, so the therapy is to replace them with stem cell-derived or other insulin-producing cells,” Stover told 900 CHML’s Good Morning Hamilton.

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“But they need to be protected from the patient’s immune system. We developed hydrogels that can protect these transplanted cells from being, again destroyed by the patient’s immune system.”

More than 5.7 million Canadians are affected by either Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes.

In all, about 12 million Canadians are affected by the affliction or have prediabetes — a condition that, if left unmanaged, could become Type 2 diabetes.

Individuals with Type 1 diabetes typically lose insulin-producing beta cells in pancreatic islets which creates issues with blood sugar control and ultimately becomes diabetes.

At present, treatment for the Type 1 condition is essentially limited to medications, usually insulin.

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Type 2 can be mitigated through dietary changes, exercise and weight loss.

Insulin was first discovered as a treatment by a pair of University of Toronto medical researchers, Charles Best and Frederick Banting, in 1922.

It’s that same institution that pioneered the possibility of introducing transplanted islets in the pancreas to control the blood sugar about 40 years ago.

Stover says the ultimate challenge for any cure is overcoming the human immune system, which he characterizes as “very, very finicky” when dealing with the entry of foreign materials into the body.

“So many things have worked in rodents and other animals, but very little has worked in humans as of yet,” said Stover.

With hydrogels the potential solution, the next challenge to overcome is finding an adequate delivery system for the mechanism.

Read more: Can scientists restore cell function after death? New pig study raises questions

Once solved, the technology holds the potential to treat other common afflictions.

“Cell-based therapies are shaping up to be a new branch, if you like, of modern medicine,” Stover said.

“In principle, any medical indication where a patient is missing one enzyme or hormone, including different forms of hemophilia, perhaps even Parkinson’s, can be addressed by transplanted cells that produce an enzyme or hormone.”

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The McMaster technology is likely set for clinical trials in 2024 and earmarked for eligible candidates aged between 18 and 65 to be recruited through a third-party network.

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