Inside insulin (Part 2): Approaching a cure for type 1 diabetes?


How near to a cure in the coming decades?

Looking ahead to the coming years, if not the next 100, Dr. Stephens highlighted two important aspects of care.

First, the use of a CGM device in combination with an insulin pump (also known as a closed-loop system or artificial pancreas), where the CGM effectively tells the insulin pump how much insulin to automatically dispense, should revolutionize care.

A number of such closed-loop systems have recently been approved in both the United States, including systems from Medtronic and Omnipod, and Europe.

“I wear one of these and it’s been a life changer for me, but it doesn’t suit everyone because the technology can be cumbersome, but with time, hopefully things will become smaller and more accurate in insulin delivery,” Dr. Stephens added.

The second advance of interest is the development and transplantation of cells that produce insulin.

Dr. Stephens explained that someone living with type 1 diabetes has a lot to think about, not least, doing the math related to insulin requirement. “If we just had cells from a pancreas that could be transplanted and would do that for us, then it would be a total game changer.”

To date, Vertex Pharmaceuticals has successfully treated one patient – who had lived with type 1 diabetes for about 40 years and had recurrent episodes of severe hypoglycemia – with an infusion of stem cell–derived differentiated islet cells into his liver. The procedure resulted in near reversal of type 1 diabetes, with his insulin dose reduced from 34 to 3 units, and his hemoglobin A1c falling from 8.6% to 7.2%.

And although the patient, Brian Shelton, still needs to take immunosuppressive agents to prevent rejection of the stem cell–derived islets, “it’s a whole new life,” he recently told the New York Times.

Another company called ViaCyte is also working on a similar approach.

Whether this is a cure for type 1 diabetes is still debatable, said Anne Peters, MD, of the University of Southern California, Los Angeles. “Is it true? In a word, no. But we are part of the way there, which is much closer than we were 6 months ago.”

There are also ongoing clinical trials of therapeutic interventions to prevent or delay the trajectory from presymptomatic to clinical type 1 diabetes. The most advanced is the anti-CD3 monoclonal antibody teplizumab (Tzield, Provention Bio), which was rejected by the FDA in July 2021, but has since been refiled. The company expects to hear from the agency by the end of March 2022 as to whether the resubmission has been accepted.

Diabetes specialist nurses/educators keep it human

Dr. Hall said he concurs with the late eminent U.K. diabetes specialist Robert Tattersall’s observation on what he considers one of the most important advances in the management and treatment of type 1 diabetes: the human touch.

Referring to Dr. Tattersall’s book, “Diabetes: A Biography,” Dr. Hall quoted: “If asked what innovation had made the most difference to their lives in the 1980s, patients with type 1 diabetes in England would unhesitatingly have chosen not human insulin, but the spread of diabetes specialist nurses ... these people (mainly women) did more in the last two decades of the 20th century to improve the standard of diabetes care than any other innovation or drug.”

In the United States, diabetes specialist nurses were called diabetes educators until recently, when the name changed to certified diabetes care and education specialist.

“Above all, they have humanized the service and given the patient a say in the otherwise unequal relationship with all-powerful doctors,” concluded Dr. Hall, again quoting Dr. Tattersall.

A version of this article first appeared on Medscape.com.


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