Closing In on Cures: MS and Type 1 Diabetes

This entry was posted by Thursday, 24 October, 2013
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funny cartoon about medical breakthroughs

Mister SASB is happy.

It isn’t often I get to say that we are closing in on a cure for a major disease. Much less on two. But if you or someone you care about has either diabetes or muscular sclerosis, I can tell you things are looking a heck of a lot better.

Let’s start with Diabetes.


In type 1 diabetes your body  can’t make its own insulin; in  type 2 it can but the insulin doesn’t get metabolized right  so your blood sugar goes out of control.  Neither one is great but, for my money, I would take my chances with type 2. I just would not like to live my life with type 1 diabetes.

Well guess what? Habib Zaghouani, PhD, J. Lavenia Edwards (Pediatrics at MU School of Medicine) has been working on a cure. He (and his colleagues) already figured  out how to get the immune system to stop destroying the islet cells in the pancreas that makes insulin.

The idea worked. But it didn’t work.

Yes, they were able to get the immune system to stop attacking islet cells, but, somehow, that wasn’t enough. Something else was killing those cells. After some deep thinking, Dr. Zaghouani realized that the immune system wasn’t attacking just the islet cells. It was also attacking their blood supply. Without a supply of blood, there can be no islet cells and the patient is still hosed.

Too bad, huh?

So Dr. Zaghouani tried injecting adult stem cells from the patient’s bone marrow into the pancreas. This stopped the immune system from attacking he blood vessels – an utterly amazing and flabbergasting result, don’t you think? Even Dr. Z was surprised but he didn’t seem too sad about it either. He’s off to the patent office with an application on the process.

Great, great news.


Here’s what’s happening.

Your nerves are protected by a sleeve or “sheath” made out of myelin which insulates it so it won’t “short out” and malfunction. If your immune system is confused enough to attack this sheath, you have  multiple sclerosis.  “Sclerosis” means the tissue is changing – becoming “sclerotic” or hardened. People with MS have trouble controlling their muscles or may have trouble with their senses. If things get bad, it can also affect the heart or lungs. It would be good if the immune system didn’t do that, right?

Dr. Stephen Miller (Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and one of the senior authors of the article in Science Translational Medicine) thinks so too. His team has developed a treatment which “resets” the immune system. At the end of a “phase 1 clinical trial”, the results looked startling. The drug seems to be safe and well tolerated (the main purpose of phase 1 drug trials is to figure out if there will be side effects) and the drug cut down the immune systems tendency to attack the nerves dramatically. In the next trial – phase II – for which they are currently trying to raise money now, the goal is to stop the progress of MS in its tracks.

What does MISTER ScienceAintSoBad think of this? He thinks it’s cool beans.  I don’t know the total enrollment for the first human trials but Phase I trials aren’t usually huge so we’ll have to hope problems don’t crop up as more people are pulled into the studies. But this is great work.

ScienceAintSoBadRating = 10 for both of  these good applications of medical science.


Note: This isn’t the last time I will write about huge progress about either of these diseases. Other researchers are taking different and equally interesting tacks.

I’ll keep on it, okay?

– – – – – – –

Drawing by me





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