Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Diabetes Health Center

Font Size

Gene Therapy Restores Blood Sugar Control to Near Normal

By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD

Nov. 22, 2000 -- Using a new form of gene therapy, researchers in South Korea and Canada have tricked the liver into producing a substance like insulin to replace the insulin the pancreas can't produce, resulting in long-term control of blood sugar in animals with a form of type 1 diabetes. If successful in humans, the technique, described in the Nov. 23 issue of the journal Nature,could enhance or perhaps replace the need for insulin injections.

Type 1 diabetes, in the past referred to as juvenile-onset or insulin-dependent diabetes, for the majority of people is caused when the body turns on itself and directs the immune system to attack and destroy cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. The cells, called beta-islet cells, produce insulin, a hormone that is necessary for the regulation of glucose, the primary blood sugar used by the body for energy. Because their bodies can no longer produce the insulin they need, people with type 1 diabetes must inject themselves with insulin to keep blood sugar under control.

The experimental therapy uses a specially modified virus to carry into liver cells a gene that senses glucose levels in the blood, coupled with a gene that will cause the liver cells to produce a modified form of insulin that the body can readily use.

When the gene package was injected into the livers of rats with a chemically induced type of diabetes and into mice with a hereditary form of the disease, blood glucose levels returned to normal within two weeks of treatment, and have remained normal for more than five months in mice and more than eight months in rats. The treated animals have shown no apparent side effects from the treatment, report Ji-Won Yoon, PhD, and associates at the University of Calgary in Alberta, and at Yonsei University Medical School in Seoul.

"One of the significant findings of our study is that the liver cells producing [the modified insulin] now take over the function of insulin-producing beta cells, which have been completely destroyed by the autoimmune attack in the mice," Yoon comments in a written statement. But because the new insulin-producing cells are different from beta cells, they are apparently protected from immune system attacks, Yoon says.

Several research teams in Asia, Europe, and North America are working on gene therapy strategies for promoting long-term insulin production in the liver to treat type 1 diabetes. One of the barriers to this form of therapy, however, is that once you've turned on production of insulin, you have to find a way to turn it off to avoid the problems associated with hypoglycemia, a condition caused by extremely low blood sugar levels, which can cause loss of consciousness, diabetic comas, and in extreme cases, death.

Is This Normal? Get the Facts Fast!

Check Your Blood Sugar Level Now
What type of diabetes do you have?
Your gender:

Get the latest Diabetes newsletter delivered to your inbox!


or
Answer:
Low
0-69
Normal
70-130
High
131+

Your level is currently

If the level is below 70 or you are experiencing symptoms such as shaking, sweating or difficulty thinking, you will need to raise the number immediately. A quick solution is to eat a few pieces of hard candy or 1 tablespoon of sugar or honey. Recheck your numbers again in 15 minutes to see if the number has gone up. If not, repeat the steps above or call your doctor.

People who experience hypoglycemia several times in a week should call their health care provider. It's important to monitor your levels each day so you can make sure your numbers are within the range. If you are pregnant always consult with your health care provider.

Congratulations on taking steps to manage your health.

However, it's important to continue to track your numbers so that you can make lifestyle changes if needed. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.

Your level is high if this reading was taken before eating. Aim for 70-130 before meals and less than 180 two hours after meals.

Even if your number is high, it's not too late for you to take control of your health and lower your blood sugar.

One of the first steps is to monitor your levels each day. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.

Did You Know Your Lifestyle Choices
Affect Your Blood Sugar?

Use the Blood Glucose Tracker to monitor
how well you manage your blood sugar over time.

Get Started

This tool is not intended for women who are pregnant.

Start Over

Step:  of 

Today on WebMD

Diabetic tools
Symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and more.
woman flexing muscles
10 strength training exercises.
 
Blood sugar test
12 practical tips.
Tom Hanks
Stars living with type 1 or type 2.
 
Woman serving fast food from window
Video
Can Vinegar Treat Diabetes
Video
 
Middle aged person
Tool
are battery operated toothbrushes really better
Video
 

Prediabetes How to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes
Article
type 2 diabetes
Slideshow
 
food fitness planner
Tool
Are You at Risk for Dupuytrens Contracture
Article