New diabetes treatment would turn liver cells into insulin producers
When pancreatic islet allo-transplantation therapy was first introduced, it provided hope for countless diabetics tired of daily insulin injections. While the technology has delivered on much of its promise, Orgenesis is currently developing a treatment of its own, that it claims addresses much of the shortcomings of islet therapy.
In a nutshell, its approach involves converting the patient’s own liver cells into cells that produce insulin. In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas no longer produces insulin – insulin being a hormone that removes excess sugar from the bloodstream. Typically, the missing insulin must be provided in the form of daily injections. With islet therapy, however, clusters of cells are transplanted from a deceased party’s donor pancreas into a diabetic patient. Known as islets, these cell clusters produce insulin within the body, so no injections are needed.
Among the drawbacks to the approach, however, is the fact that a suitable donor pancreas may not be available. Even if it is, recipients need to stay on immunosuppressive medications in order to keep the islets from being rejected, and those medications can carry health risks and severe side effects of their own. That’s where the Orgenesis system comes in.
It involves harvesting cells from the patient’s own liver, which are then propagated in the lab. A master control gene known as PDX-1 is then used to convert those lab-grown liver cells into what the company calls Autologous Insulin Producing (AIP) cells, which are similar in function to islets. The AIP cells are then introduced back into the liver via a catheter, where they set about producing insulin.