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Type 1 diabetes cured in dogs for the first time, paving the way for humans

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
For the first time, researchers cure type 1 diabetes in dogs.

Researchers from the Universität Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) have cured type 1 diabetes in dogs for the first time. The finding is significant because it paves the way for a potential and safe treatment for the disease in humans.

The cure uses a single session of gene therapy that led to complete remission of type 1 diabetes symptoms that persisted for 4 years in the dogs.

The researchers injected dogs with gene therapy vectors in their hind legs, using simple needles. The result is expression of the insulin gene, in addition to the enzyme glucokinase, which regulates glucose levels in the blood.

The injections serve two purposes – one is to ‘sense’ blood sugar levels and the second is to keep blood sugar levels from becoming too high (hyperglycemia).

The study, led by Fàtima Bosch, is the first to use gene therapy to cure type 1 diabetes in large animals. Previous success was seen in mice.

The study's success means help for dogs with diabetes. But it also opens the door for treating patients with the disease.

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Dogs treated with the gene therapy maintained glucose control after eating and when fasting. There were no episodes of hypoglycemia, which is better than insulin therapy. Blood sugar levels stayed normal even with exercise.

Type1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that can mean repeated insulin injections, frequent blood sugar testing and interference with activities.

The disease can also lead to complications later in life that are worse for patients diagnosed at the youngest age.

In the study, dogs did not develop any complications of diabetes. The next step will be veterinary testing on companion animals in clinical trials.

Researchers say the therapy is safe and involves the transfer of two genes into the muscles of large animals using new generation adeno-associated vectors. The finding is published in the journal Diabetes.

The authors say the finding can be translated to humans once more studies are done on animals. Curing type 1 diabetes in dogs is a major advance that we can hope means a cure for diabetic humans in the not too distant future.

Diabetes journal
February 1, 2013

Image credit: Morguefile