Two people pass away every five minutes due to diabetes-related causes, and 14 adults are newly diagnosed with diabetes every five minutes, according to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States. While there were an estimated 2,28m diagnosed cases of diabetes in South Africa in 2015.
#WDD: Strides made in diabetic research
Diabetes is often referred to as the silent killer as many people remain unaware that they are suffering from the disease until it is too late. Diabetes is caused by the pancreas not being able to produce enough insulin, or the cells of the body not responding to the insulin which is produced. Dependent on the type of diabetes, it may be treated with either insulin injections or medications (with or without insulin).
Diabetes is a challenging disease to live with for the patient, as it requires a strict diet, accurate dosages of insulin and/or medication, exercise, and the continuous testing of blood sugar levels. Unfortunately, diabetes may also lead to various long-term complications if not treated properly, including permanent damage to the eyes, kidneys, nerves, and heart.
So, the race is on to develop treatment protocols and drugs that make the disease easier to manage for sufferers.
The US Patent and Trademark Office has recently granted a patent for a potential functional cure for diabetes. In accordance with this patent, the University of Technology in Sydney genetically engineered cells, called Melligen cells, which can produce, store and release insulin in response to human blood sugar levels.
However, during animal testing, a barrier arose when the mice who were receiving these Melligen cells experienced an immune response. This barrier has however been overcome with the recent involvement of PharmaCyte Biotech, a US clinical stage biotechnology company, which has developed a product, Cell-in-a-Box®, which encapsulates the Melligen cells and thereby hides them from the immune system inside the human body. The Melligen cells will then detect when the blood sugar is low and thereby produce and release the required insulin. The result of this ground-breaking combination may be a long-term solution for diabetics who cannot produce insulin at all. The research will now be moving into clinical trials stage, in so far as the patent has been granted.
In terms of South African research in the diabetic field, a team of researchers from the department of human physiology at the University of KwaZulu-Natal have recently developed a way of administering insulin into the bloodstream without the need for injections.
This comprises a transdermal patch that releases insulin through the skin into the bloodstream at a constant rate. As such, there is no longer a need for painful injections. Some diabetics inject up to eight times a day. Insulin is at times injected in large amounts and it may lead to hypoglycamia. The transdermal patch provides a solution and prevents hypoglycaemia in the patient, as insulin is delivered in a controlled and constant manner. This imitates the natural release of insulin in someone not suffering from the disease.
The staggering results obtained to date in terms of new developments continues to motivate researchers across the globe to better current inventions and to create new breakthrough treatments which is sure to dramatically improve the quality of life, and life expectancy of millions of diabetic patients in the future.