Are we on the verge of a diabetes cure?

11 August 2011

This is the second of four new features highlighting the work of MSFHR-funded research teams. The full report, MSFHR Team Programs Analysis, is now available for download.

Backed by a 2006 MSFHR Research Unit award, Dr. Garth Warnock and his team have demonstrated the success of a new treatment for Type 1 diabetes that reverses the disease’s severe, life-threatening complications and offers renewed hope for a cure.

Warnock and his colleagues at the Centre for Human Islet Transplantation and Beta Cell Regeneration recently published a landmark paper containing 10 years of data which examines how the new treatment protocol – islet transplantation – has the ability to reduce insulin dependence and prevent diabetes-related kidney disease. The islet transplantation procedure involves relocating endocrine cells from a healthy donor’s pancreas into the diabetes patient’s liver to help control blood glucose levels without the need for the insulin injections that often rule a patient’s life.

"The study, which provides evidence from the longest follow-up data so far, shows that transplantation is the way to go for the prevention of diabetic complications over the long term," says Warnock. "If you can improve these outcomes in a disease like diabetes, it will have huge population health effects."

The team’s work has gained international recognition, and many investigators who are researching other types of transplantation therapy, including stem cells and human insulin-producing cells, are now interested in setting up similar studies.

"I would say the data in our publications have set new gold standards for the prevention of complications in Type 1 diabetes throughout the world," says Warnock.

MSFHR funding has also been instrumental in helping the program attract new trainees, both in clinical and basic science fields, and providing them with the skills to translate research into improvements in care.

"We've linked investigators in the clinic with researchers in the basic science labs through a collaboration we can use to advance clinical care," says Warnock. "We've had some remarkable success. This has been a real benefit of MSFHR funding.