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article imageNew Study Offers Hope for Insulin-Dependent Diabetics

By Bob Ewing     Jul 30, 2007 in Science
A new study recently completed by a research team at the University of Central Florida may have found a way to produce an insulin capsule that can mean people with insulin-dependent diabetes will no longer need regular injections.
Mice and lettuce may well be the human’s best friends. A recent study states that capsules of insulin that were produced in genetically modified lettuce may posses the answer to restoring the body’s ability to produce insulin. If the results of this study by a team of University of Central Florida biomedical researchers proves true then millions of people will be helped.
According to the University of Central Florida news service, the research team was led by Professor Henry Daniell the team first worked with tobacco plants. They genetically engineered tobacco plants with the insulin gene and then administered freeze-fried plant cells to five week old diabetic mice.
The mice had normal blood and urine sugar levels and their cells were producing normal levels of insulin by the end of the study.
According to Daniell, the results are encouraging as they provide evidence that it may be possible one day to produce insulin capsules which would be used to prevent diabetes before symptoms appear. The capsules would also be able to treat the disease in its later stages.
The team switched to lettuce, rather than continuing with tobacco to produce insulin, because lettuce can be cheaply produced, and lettuce does not have a negative public image.
The study’s findings were reported in the July issue of the Plant Biotechnology Journal, two million dollars in funding was provided by The National Institutes of Health.
Type I diabetes otherwise known as insulin-dependent diabetes is an autoimmune disease. The body's immune system attacks and destroys insulin and insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. Our bodies use insulin, which is a hormone, to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy.
The usual way to deliver insulin to the body is through injections so the hormone can go straight into the bloodstream. According to the study, plant cell walls made of cellulose initially prevent insulin from degrading, so when the plant cells containing insulin reach the intestine, bacteria living there begin to slowly break down the cell walls. This breakdown gradually releases insulin into the bloodstream.
“Currently, the only relief for diabetes is a momentary relief. Diabetics still have to monitor their blood and urine sugar levels. They have to inject themselves with insulin several times a day. Having a permanent solution for this, I'm sure, would be pretty exciting. Daniell
You will not actually have to eat lettuce to ingest the insulin as it would be delivered as a powder in capsules. It is important that the insulin dosage be carefully controlled. because the dosage must be controlled carefully.
In the United States alone there are about 20.8 million children and adults or approximately, 7 percent of the population, who have Type 1 or 2 diabetes. This number is projected to increase over the next 18 years.
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