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March 9, 2004

Alternative Therapies and Explanations, Research: Cure

Question from Farmington, Connecticut, USA:

A report dated February 25, 2004 by JDRF funded researchers states, "patients newly diagnosed with juvenile (type 1) diabetes retain the ability to secrete much more insulin, at least for a while, than previously believed. This suggests that beta mass at this early stage is surprisingly high." The research was led by Kevan Herold, M.D. Are there any known ways to preserve and expand beta cell mass in new onset patients? Can bitter melon help? Can a few beta cells be extracted, frozen and saved for possible cloning later?


I have not seen the recent Herold report, but the idea is amply supported by recent work in diabetic NOD mice who have an autoimmune diabetes. It has become clear in these animals that, at the time that insulin dependance developed, there are still substantial numbers of insulin and glucagon producing cells growing from the pancreatic ducts and not yet migrated into the exocrine pancreas to form islets. There is an intense amount of research at this time to try to unravel the complicated mechanisms by which these cells are induced to develop and then to migrate to functioning islets. The work centers around a group of a dozen or so proteins called transcription factors with names Pdx-1 and Nkx2.2 that govern this process. However, even if understanding here could lead to some renewal of lost islet cells, there would still remain the problem of the autoimmunity which destroyed the original cells. Here, again, great progress is being made and, one day, these insights could lead to an alternative to islet cell transplantation and even to earlier restoration of insulin independence. Beta cells have so far defeated efforts to make them replicate in culture, although in some cases of carcinoma of the pancreas, it has been possible to separate out these cells from the excised pancreas and re-implant them. Possibities from stem cells look increasingly hopeful and you might be interested to know that one of the invetigators that has helped develop 17 new strains of stem cells has a child with type 1 diabetes.

Finally, I couldn’t find any information about a possible role for bitter melon, so I am rather doubtful that it has one in this intensely complex field.

Additional comments from Brenda Hitchcock:

See Bitter Melon for more information.