Research offers new hope for diabetics

November 17, 2003

Brussels, 14 Nov 2003

The world's estimated 194 million diabetics received a boost on 14 November, World Diabetes Day, when researchers in the US announced that they had halted and reversed the type 1 form of the disease in mice.

And on 13 November, the European Commission announced that it is to fund a 11.7 million euro Integrated Project to investigate the treatment of obesity, one of the main causes of the more common type 2 diabetes.

Type 1 diabetics are not able to produce insulin, and require regular injections to survive. Insulin is normally produced in the pancreas by islet cells, which, in diabetes sufferers, are destroyed by the immune body's system. Without insulin, type 1 diabetics are not able to convert sugar into fuel, and sugar levels build up dangerously in the blood.

The American scientists had already discovered that by injecting spleen cells from healthy mice into mice with diabetes, their immune systems could be re-educated to accept an islet cell transplant. In their latest research, however, the team used a specific type of spleen cell, and were surprised when the diabetic mice began producing insulin producing islet cells themselves.

Dr David Nathan, director of the diabetes centre at the Massachusetts general hospital, where the research was carried out, is reported as saying: 'These exciting findings in a mouse model of type 1 diabetes suggest that patients who are developing this disease could be rescued from further destruction of their insulin producing cells. In addition, patients with fully established diabetes possibly could have their diabetes reversed.'

Also coinciding with World Diabetes Day was the announcement by the Commission that it is launching a five year Integrated Project (IP) to tackle obesity, a major cause of another form of diabetes.

Increased weight can make it hard for the body to maintain normal, low blood sugar levels. With the average weight of Europeans steadily increasing, 24 partners from ten European countries will work together on the project to try and identify the brain mechanisms that affect obesity.

It is known that specific regions of the brain play an important role in weight regulation, and the team will investigate the regulatory circuits in the brain in order to validate new methods for the treatment of obesity. The IP will employ advanced genomic approaches, carrying out detailed analysis of sample patient groups and genetic research in animal models.

EU Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin said: 'Obesity ranks high among the causes of diabetes. It is a major risk factor and the reduction of weight often improves blood sugar control, thereby helping in the treatment of diabetes. This new research project is a first example of the European Research Area in action in the field of diabetes.'

For more information on the Commission's life sciences, genomic and biotechnology for health priority, please visit:
http:/// html

CORDIS RTD-NEWS / © European Communities

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