With the metabolic syndrome becoming a major scourge affecting the quality of life for millions of people across the world, its treatment involving insulin injection or consumption of powerful drugs are unavoidable chore of daily life for these unfortunate victims. Is there no hope for them to lead a normal life by getting the diabetes cured permanently in spite of vast strides medical science has made during the last 3 decades? While about 70 million persons are considered suffering from diabetes, be it Type I or Type II, there may be many who might not be even knowing that they are diabetics because of the silent way it creeps in unannounced and without any strong symptoms. Of course the pharma industry is raking in money through a variety of treatment regimes including sale of human insulin injections and about half a dozen synthetic drugs. It is against such a depressing background that the recent news about the exciting work in Cornell University in the US developing a probiotic treatment regime that may eventually come in the form of a pill that is to be consumed by diabetics every day for avoiding glucose build up in the blood. Here is a take on this "breaking story" report.
"Researchers at Cornell University have successfully treated diabetic rats by engineering a strain of lactobacillus, a rod-shaped bacteria common in the human gut, resulting in up to 30 percent lower blood glucose levels. The technology could pave the way for a new treatment for both type 1 and type 2 diabetes that could one day see managing diabetes be as easy as taking a daily probiotic pill.. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), diabetes is one of the leading causes of death and disability worldwide. In the US, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that around 29 million people have the disease, many of whom aren't even aware they have it. The Cornell study could take us one step closer to a safe, effective way for people to control the disease. In their proof of principle study the researchers modified a strain of humanlactobacillus to secrete a protein called Glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1), which helps manage blood sugar levels, and administered it orally to diabetic rats for 90 days. The upper intestinal epithelial cells of the diabetic rats were converted into cells that acted very much like pancreatic beta cells, which in healthy people monitor blood glucose levels and secrete insulin to balance glucose levels. The rats with high blood glucose developed insulin-producing cells within the upper intestine in numbers sufficient to replace 25 to 33 percent of the insulin capacity of nondiabetic healthy rats. "The amount of time to reduce glucose levels following a meal is the same as in a normal rat, and it is matched to the amount of glucose in the blood, just as it would be with a normal-functioning pancreas," says John March, professor of biological and environmental engineering at Cornell University and the paper's senior author. "It's moving the center of glucose control from the pancreas to the upper intestine." Conversely, the engineered probiotic did not appear to affect the blood glucose levels of healthy rats".
The beauty of this work lies in the fact that it works both for Type I and II diabetic patients giving hope that insulin injection may become a part of history if and when the innovation is commercialized. Probiotic bacteria is receiving increasing attention these days because of their ability to get modified through genetic engineering for highly targeted applications. Though there may be some resistance because of the genetic modification of the bacteria, its benefits far outweigh any other consideration. One can only hope that the development publicised so early will not raise hopes too high because it may take quite some time before taking its place on the drug store shelves as human trials are yet to be undertaken to confirm that the technology really works.