By nature I’m a skeptic, but when it comes to science and medicine, I’m a wild-eyed optimist. So you can imagine my mixed feelings of excitement and concern when I read the recent item out of Boston Children’s Hospital stating that their researchers had found the root cause of Type 1 diabetes. While this is cause for celebration, I think we’d better take a closer look at the implications for the future. Just in case you missed the news, you can check out the organization’s own blog post on the subject. I’ll sum it up for you: Dr. Paolo Fiorina, a researcher in the Nephrology Division at Boston Children’s Hospital, and his team have studied hundreds of pathways in animals with diabetes, and finally isolated one – known as ATP/P2X7R – which triggers T-cell attacks on the pancreas. These attacks make the pancreas unable to produce insulin, which gets the whole process of Type 1 diabetes underway. The whole blog post is worth reading, as it discusses other attempts at treating this tragic and painful disease – not just insulin injections, mind you, but transplants of pancreatic islet cells, used in an attempt to get the body producing insulin again so that injections are no longer necessary. Getting at the actual pathway for the attacks that cause the pancreas to become disabled could allow us to figure out a way to stop the disease process in its tracks. No children, then, might ever need to know the heartbreak that comes with sticking themselves with a needle multiple times a day, not eating cake and ice cream at birthday parties (even their own!) or other times, and more. I’m not even getting into all the nasty complications of the disease! I’m smiling and all but jumping up and down with joy at this news…but I’m tempering that with a small dose of reality. Let me explain. The first point is that this pathway was discovered in animals. If the team follows the usual approach, as I understand it, they’ll need to figure out how to block the pathway in animals before they can try it out in humans. In the...Read More
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