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The Success of Islet Regeneration Rests on an Anti-Inflammatory Drug

Health Central: February 9, 2010 - Ann Bartlett

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Eli Lewis and Students

Dr. Eli Lewis (center) and students check mouse's glucose levels.

I've been reading some research on a guest speaker coming to Washington, DC, on March 1, 2010, for our JDRF capitol chapter research update. Dr. Eli Lewis, from Ben-Gurion University in Israel, will be in DC to discuss his breakthrough research for Islet Cell Transplantation.
 
What researchers know is that transplanted human islet cells, also known as beta cells, can restore normal glucose levels.  In 2000, using 50 research facilities in the US, doctors transplanted healthy islets into patients with type 1 diabetes, hoping the newly grafted cells would produce insulin.

For a few months, patients went off insulin and were basically cured of diabetes. However, the transplanted cells were eventually rejected and all of the recipients went back on insulin.
 
What the research team from Ben-Gurion decided to do was to focus not on the rejection, but on the inflammatory response caused by the transplant.  Dr. Lewis grafted healthy insulin producing islet cells into diabetic mice and then added an anti-inflammatory drug called alpha-1-antitrypsin, or AAT. AAT is an anti-inflammatory drug that has been on the market for two decades. Within three months, they had three different, but positive effects.
 
The AAT created successful survival for the grafted islet cells indefinitely, and the mice started making insulin like any normal healthy pancreas is supposed to do! After time went by, the research teams stopped administering the AAT and the islets continued to function.
 
Dr. Lewis explained, "There is no approach today that is able to provide a limited amount of therapy.  If a patient stops a protocol therapy, any graft will be rejected: kidney, heart, lungs - including islets."
 
The third result that is fascinating - and one that I'm personally waiting to see if it can hold water for humans - is the success in suspending therapy. Since stopping the AAT treatments, the mice have continued to produce insulin on their own and the body's immune system can go back to fighting off sickness without killing the islet cells.
 
This protocol is also proving to be positive for type 2 diabetes, when the pancreas begins to breakdown and not produce enough beta cells, which also is the result of an inflammatory condition. Treating the body for the inflammation recovers the beta cells' function.
 
However, before we come to the conclusion that we have a cure, we have to remember that this has worked only for mice, and not yet humans. So begins the next phase, which is to bring this research to the human body and test what works on a mouse on us!
 
Because AAT is already an FDA approved drug, human trials can begin this year. Dr. Eli Lewis and Ben-Gurion University will work with Harvard, Stanford, Columbia and the University of Colorado to begin testing the protocol on bodies like mine.