A Viral Fix for Diabetes


Can one injection of an engineered virus carrying a gene cure Type Two diabetes? That's what a new study accomplished in mice which doesn't mean much to humans yet, but certainly stokes excitement considering type two diabetes has become an epidemic.

The engineered virus, called an AAV, carried a gene called a fibroblast growth factor twenty one or FGF-twenty one. Once injected, the virus was able to alter cells in the liver, fat, and skeletal muscles and enable them to keep producing FGF twenty one.

The reason FGF twenty one is important is this small protein is normally secreted by several organs in our bodies. It regulates our metabolism, how sugar is used, and how sensitive our bodies are to insulin. But diabetics don't produce enough of it.

This growth factor works by binding to receptors on the surface of cells. Prior studies have already shown that giving it to obese or diabetic rats, mice and monkeys made them lose weight, lowered their blood glucose and insulin resistance.

However, FGF twenty one does not make a good drug since it has a very short lifespan in the body due to its degradation by enzymes and elimination by the kidney. But this study gets around that problem because by introducing it into various cells and organs using an engineered virus, the growth factor is being produced continuously.

It worked on two mouse strains so far. The next step is to test the approach on larger animals and then onto clinical trials with humans. It's among a handful of promising therapies being developed for diabetes. One day, we may just have a cure.

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