Gene Therapy for Diabetes

By Caty Weaver

This is the VOA Special English SCIENCE REPORT.

Scientists have used a new gene treatment on mice and rats with the disease diabetes. The scientists say the animals now are showing no signs of the disease.

Medical researchers at Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea led the study. Scientists from the University of Calgary in Canada also took part. The scientists used mice and rats with type one diabetes. This kind of diabetes is also called juvenile or insulin-dependent diabetes. Type one diabetes happens when the body's natural defense system mistakenly destroys cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. Insulin is needed to control sugar levels in the blood.

The researchers created a virus and placed human genes in it. They chose a virus that earlier studies have shown was a safe way to transport genes. They injected the virus into the livers of the rats and mice.

The genes reacted to blood sugar levels in the animals. The genes began producing a hormone like insulin that orders the body to process the sugar in the blood. The hormone caused the blood sugar levels in the rats and mice to drop.

The blood sugar levels in the rats and mice have remained under control for eight months. The scientists say they will continue to observe the animals for at least a year. The scientists also say the animals have not experienced any apparent bad effects from the treatment. And, they say the animals' livers remain healthy.

The researchers next hope to try their diabetes treatment on larger animals, like dogs or monkeys. They plan to study reactions in those test subjects for three to four years. Then they may test the treatment in people.

Diabetes is a serious disease. If it is not treated, the disease can cause blindness, kidney disease and nerve damage. People with diabetes also are more likely to suffer strokes and heart disease. And diabetes often interferes with the movement of blood through the body, especially in the legs.

People who suffer from type one diabetes almost always require insulin injections. They also have to carefully control what they eat. And they must exercise often. The researchers hope that their gene treatment someday will cure diabetes in people.

This VOA Special English SCIENCE REPORT was written by Caty Weaver.

Voice of America Special English