"Life moves pretty fast. You don't stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it." - Ferris Bueller

Tuesday, March 18, 2008
A Victory in the War on Diabetes – Could It Really Be This Simple?

Some readers may remember a previous post on some promising medical research in the quest for a cure for a devastating disease commonly known as Diabetes.  While that research was focused on the ever popular stem cell front, I came across another researcher whose field focuses on a much simpler treatment.


Type I Diabetes – the most prevalent of the two types – occurs when a patient's pancreas ceases to produce enough of the insulin hormone to effectively break down the glucose from food or drink ingested by said patient.  High blood sugar results in a host of maladies which I will not here review.  I'll just simply state the disease really sucks.


One of the theories behind the demise of the patients pancreas is that the immune system mistakes the insulin producing beta cells for a disease.  The immune system then declares war on the beta cells and for all intents and purposes the pancreas is a worthless hunk of tissue.  Conventional wisdom and medical science has held the belief that the beta cells could not be resurrected.  New research might just debunk this theory.


Dr. Denise Faustman a scientist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School has been conducting experiments on mice using a generic tuberculosis vaccine which evidently kills the immune system cells which took out the insulin producing beta cells.  Here's the bottom line:


The real shock, however, was that with the killer T-cells eliminated, beta cells apparently regenerated enough to pump out sufficient insulin to cure the mice's diabetes. No one had any idea before this that a diabetes-ravaged pancreas might still harbor enough beta cells, or be able to resurrect them, to reverse diabetes, at least in lab animals. (Emphasis Added)


I'm not much of a medical expert, but that's pretty compelling evidence – something which in my mind is worthy of further study – and funding.  Here's the pathetic part of the story:  The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation declined to fund Dr. Faustman's research.  In fact, they went so far as to fund three research teams whose stated goal was to debunk Faustman's hypothesis.


The linked article doesn't go into much detail as to why the JDRF declined to fund Faustman's project.  I have a very uniformed guess based strictly on capitalsitic theory.  Simply put, Faustman's research is too simple.  The vaccine upon which her work is based has been on the market for nearly 80 years as a treatment for tuberculosis.  It's a generic drug which can be mass produced for pennies a dose.  Should Faustman's research result in a viable treatment for diabetes, it will be one of the cheapest cures ever found.  It doesn't involve fetal stem cells or overpriced technology.  The vaccine kills the cells that caused the problem and nature goes back to working the way it was meant to.


Faustman owes the fact that her work is going forward to the charitable inclinations of none other than former Chrysler CEO Lee Iacocca.  Mr. Iacocca lost his wife Mary to the ravages of Type I diabetes in 1984.  His foundation stepped in and donated $11.5 million to further the clinical trials of Faustman's research with the hopes that fewer people will lose their limbs, eyesight, and lives to this scourge.  Iacocca is a businessman and evidently he understands that a good, fast, and cheap cure is better than none at all.


Thanks, Lee.  Good luck Dr. Faustman.


Here endeth the lesson.

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