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Type 1 diabetes has been totally cured for the first time in large animals thanks to the work of Catalan researchers

Researchers from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) have managed to completely cure dogs with type 1 diabetes through a single session of gene therapy. It is the first time ever that the effectiveness of a treatment against this illness in large animals has been proved in the world. This achievement opens the door to being able to translate a similar therapy to humans and cure type 1 diabetes, which currently has no cure and means that patients have to control their blood insulin levels for their whole lives through hormone injections, as untreated it can be fatal. Diabetes mellitus type 1 is an autoimmune illness that destroys the cells of the pancreas that produce insulin, an essential hormone in the process of transforming glucose into energy for the body’s cells.

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07 February 2013 11:14 PM

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ACN / María Belmez

Barcelona (ACN).- Researchers from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) have managed to completely cure dogs with type 1 diabetes through a single session of gene therapy. It is the first time ever that the effectiveness of a treatment for this illness in large animals has been proved in the world. This achievement opens the door to being able to translate a similar therapy to humans and cure type 1 diabetes, which currently has no cure and means that patients have to control their blood insulin levels for their whole lives through hormone injections, as untreated it can be fatal. Diabetes mellitus type 1 is an autoimmune illness that destroys the cells of the pancreas that produce insulin, an essential hormone in the process of transforming glucose into energy for the body\u2019s cells. The Catalan study was directed by Fàtima Bosch and has been published in the international journal \u2018Diabetes\u2019. It has involved several UAB departments, as well as the Children\u2019s Hospital of Philadelphia and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute of Philadelphia. The gene therapy to cure type 1 diabetes had already been successful in mice but the UAB did it for the first time in larger animals. The dogs involved had a 4-year follow up after the treatment and none of them suffered from symptoms of the illness ever again.


The therapy developed by the UAB team of researchers consisted of several shots of gene therapy vectors, injected in a single session into the dog\u2019s legs. The therapy is not very invasive, made with a simple needle (such as those used in aesthetic treatments). The objective is to express the gene controlling insulin and glucokinase. The latter acts as a regulator of the attraction of the glucose in blood. When both genes act together they act as a \u201Cglucose sensor\u201D and there is an automatic regulation of the attraction of the glucose in the blood and a consequent reduction in the diabetic hyperglycaemia is achieved.

A better treatment than regular insulin shots

The treatment has been shown to be safe and effective. The vectors used are known as adeno-associated and they derivate from non-pathogenic viruses. The animals which received the therapy showed very good glycaemia control at all times, while being in a fasting state or after having eaten. Furthermore, they were in an even better state than the dogs suffering from type 1 diabetes which were being treated with the daily insulin shots. In addition, the animals which received the gene therapy displayed no episodes of hyperglycaemia even after doing strenuous exercise. These dogs had also regularised their weight and had not developed any secondary complications four years after the treatment.

It opens the door for curing human type 1 diabetes

This type of therapy had already been used in mice but the UAB did it for the first time in larger animals. This is a very important step in the research on diabetes, since it sets the base for future clinical essays with animals closer to humans, with the final goal of being able to translate this therapy into humans, in order to cure human type 1 diabetes, which is often diagnosed in childhood.

In cooperation with two American centres

The scientific study was led by the Director of the UAB\u2019s Centre of Animal Biology and Genetic Therapy, Fàtima Bosch. It involved other departments of the UAB, as well as the Children\u2019s Hospital of Philadelphia and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute of Philadelphia.

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  • The research team with two of the dogs cured thanks to gene therapy (by M. Belmez)

  • The research team with two of the dogs cured thanks to gene therapy (by M. Belmez)