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ADVANCE Discourse: Lab

Dog-a-betes

Published February 20, 2013 4:15 PM by Michael Jones

I can only imagine the spokespuppy for doggie diabetes is a bull dog named Woof-ford Brimley, who, instead of barking, speaks in a series of short-breathed and amiable growls. As it turns out, this may not have been too far off in Spain -- at least for a short while -- where beagle puppies were induced to mimic Type 1 diabetes in humans and then subsequently cured. In a recent article, Spanish researchers have taken what could potentially be the first steps toward a cure for humans.

After successful testing in mice, the Spanish research team moved on to dogs. The puppies were between 6 and 12 months old when they were “chemically induced” with the autoimmune blood sugar disease, after which the dogs were “given daily insulin injections.” After developing a gene therapy to produce insulin and detect the “amount of glucose in skeletal muscles,” the researchers administered the procedure in “a single session of numerous injections in the dog’s rear legs” -- and it worked. After 4 years of continued blood sugar measurements, the dog’s remained healthy without receiving insulin or experiencing any long term complications from the therapy.

“Our data [represents] the first demonstration of long-term correction of diabetes in a large animal model using gene transfer,” wrote the researchers.

Despite positive results overall, the research I still met with moderate skepticism. Fatima Bosch, lead researcher and director of animal biotechnology and gene therapy at the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona, noted further testing on dogs with naturally occurring diabetes as the “next step” in research. As domesticated animals will have more varying glucose levels, the study will include pets for result more accurately portraying what a human would encounter.

While contemporaries, Camillo Ricordi, MD, director of diabetes research and the cell transplant center at the University of Miami, and Massimo Trucco, MD, chief of the division of immunogenics at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, agreed that the study is a good first step, they also noted the success of this therapy remains questionable in further testing. Ricordi cited the research as “a remarkable initial finding,” but the results could change in the case of naturally occurring diabetes. While Trucco pointed out that, due to the controlled nature of the study, real-life applications might not prove successful.

With genetic sequencing technology and the corresponding treatment getting better every day, no one can be sure what the future holds. Regardless of the outcome of this study or its continued research, it marks a step towards progress. 

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