Type 1 diabetes: Harvard might hold the key to the cure.
Have you ever found yourself running around all day trying to finish your work and then realize you haven’t eaten anything? Next thing you know your eyes get heavy, your hands begin to shake, and you’re now more irritable than you were before. This condition is called hypoglycemia or low blood sugar.
The lack of food intake causes blood sugar levels to drop, resulting in blurry vision, accelerated heartbeat, unexplained fatigue, loss of motor functions and eventually loss of consciousness. In the U.S., 90.6 percent of the population will never experience hypoglycemia to the point where they lose motor functions. The remaining 9.4 percent, like myself, are subjected to those symptoms thanks to a disease called diabetes.(https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/data/statistics/statistics-report.html).
“Diabetes, like hypertension, is a silent killer,” said Dr. Heitham Ajlouni, an endocrinologist at Lee Physician Group in Fort Myers, Fl.
Diabetes describes a group of metabolic diseases in which the person experiences hyperglycemia, or high blood glucose, either because insulin production is inadequate, or because the body’s cells do not respond properly to insulin, or both (https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/info/diabetes). Diabetes affects over 30 million people of all ages within the United States, but diabetes, by definition, is a group of diseases consisting of various symptoms and bodily effects.
Type 1 diabetes, found in only 10 percent of patients with diabetes, is considered the most severe. Type 1 diabetes is when your body does not produce insulin at all, hence the name “insulin-dependent.” Other common names for Type 1 diabetes are juvenile diabetes and early-onset diabetes, given that Type 1 diabetes develops early in a patient’s life.
Hypoglycemia, as it was stated earlier, is when your blood sugar crashes. Hyperglycemia is the opposite — your blood sugar skyrockets, causing insatiable thirst, frequent urination and temporary loss of sight. Failure to take care of Type 1 diabetes results in permanent loss of sight, internal organ failure and death. Type 1 diabetes is incurable, but there is hope.
In 2013, Doctors Doug Melton and Peng Yi, professors within the Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI), and how they discovered a hormone that had the capability to recreate damaged insulin-producing cells within the human body.
“Our idea here is relatively simple,” Melton said in an interview with B.D. Colen, staff writer for the Harvard Gazette. “We would provide this hormone, the patient will make more of their own insulin-producing cells, and this will slow down, if not stop, the progression of their diabetes.”
Melton’s son was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at just six months of age. Later, his daughter would be diagnosed with the same. This is what propelled Melton to begin his research, stopping his current research into frog eggs, and into the re-creation of beta cells within the pancreas.
By 2016, scientists said they were “closer than ever,” after Melton and Yi showed that they could cure animals affected by diabetes for up to six months — which would equate to several years in humans.
“Treatments like these aim to effectively establish long-term insulin independence,” said Julia Greenstein, a representative for the Junior Diabetic Research Foundation.
A cure is something that relieves a person or animal of the symptoms of a disease or condition. For the first time in history, there is, by definition, a potential cure for diabetes. According to the Diabetes Research Institute Foundation, when the re-created beta cells were implanted into mice, the cells immediately began producing insulin in response to blood glucose levels and were able to maintain blood glucose within a healthy range for 174 days.
Melton, Yi and researchers at the HSCI claim that human trials are just a few years away. After battling Type 1 diabetes for over 16 years, I remain strong, hoping that what was infinite is now temporary.
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