Restoring Type 1 Ability to Produce Insulin

Capsules of insulin produced in genetically modified lettuce could hold the key to restoring the body's ability to produce insulin and help millions of Americans who suffer from insulin-dependent diabetes, according to University of Central Florida biomedical researchers.

A team of scientists at the University of Central Florida thought it could be, and their research is causing a lot of excitement in the medical community.

A ground, dried lettuce pile can contain enough insulin to treat Type one diabetes  in six to eight mice.
"We have produced insulin in plant cells -- specifically lettuce -- and orally deliver the lettuce directly in capsules," said Henry Daniell, a professor at UCF.

Dr. Henry Daniell says Type one diabetes is an autoimmune disease. The body doesn't recognize the protein and attacks insulin and insulin-producing cells.  This eventually destroys the pancreas, meaning patients will need to be on insulin for life.
But, Daniell said that after eight weeks, the body of a mouse understood insulin was food.
"Once it stops fighting, the pancreas comes back alive because there are a lot of stem cells in pancreas.  It's repopulated," Daniell said.

That means patients wouldn't have to take insulin the rest of their lives.

"Once it's put inside a plant cell and when it's ingested in the stomach, that plant cell is surrounded by a cell wall and the cell wall protects it from amino acids in the stomach and also from enzymes for digesting.  But, when the plant cell reaches the gut, bacteria pokes holes in the plant cell wall and releases the insulin," Daniell said.

Daniell said the capsules could be used to prevent diabetes before there are any symptoms, treat the disease in later stages, and even eliminate it completely."

"When this is absorbed, we anticipate that this methodology would cure diabetes and not simply provide temporary relief," Daniell said.

It is also more cost-effective. Insulin costs Americans billons of dollars, but by eliminating the fermentation and purification process, Dr. Daniell's insulin capsules will cost pennies to produce.
Daniell said the next step is human clinical trials. He said he expects to enter the third phase in about two years, and that would be open to anyone with Type one diabetes

Once complete, the capsules will be ready for FDA approval.
The National Institutes of Health provided 2 million U.S. dollars to fund the study. The findings are reported in the latest issue of Plant Biotechnology Journal.

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