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 Baboon + Pig: And the Potential Future of Diabetes Control!  
 
The following is one in an ongoing series of columns entitled Mind Over Matter by . View all columns in series
If you or a loved one is facing the challenges of diabetes, there's a new breakthrough on the horizon that could be the single most important advance in this arena since the discovery of insulin.

While the promise of inhaled insulin as an alternative to injections was reported recently, what you're about to learn may render that approach obsolete even before it’s released to the public.

Dr. Emmanuel Opara and a team of scientists at Duke University recently announced a novel treatment that could potentially eliminate the need for insulin in type I or Type II Diabetics. Nine months ago his team injected a baboon named Babs-92 with specially encapsulated islet (insulin producing) cells from a pig's pancreas.

Their initial results are both fascinating and exciting!

In addition to not requiring insulin, Babs-92 has remarkably shown no signs of rejection. This is due to a unique process which coats the cells with a complex carbohydrate known as alginate. The coating serves as a protective sphere which acts like a one-way door. It specifically allows insulin to escape while blocking the entrance of antibodies and immune cells that normally attack transplanted tissue. As a direct result, the dreaded process of tissue rejection is blocked.

Since you might be questioning the use of insulin derived from pigs, it should be noted that pork insulin from swine has been used for many years to treat human diabetics. The difference between human and pork insulin amounts to only a single amino acid.

While I do not typically report or comment about such early research, I decided to make an exception in this case based upon the fact that this particular experiment holds such great promise for more than 135 million people worldwide. Additionally, I’m convinced this concept is not only brilliant, but is also practical on a worldwide scale.

Potential benefits could include:

  • Convenience and affordability – Since surgery is not required, the transplant could be performed in a doctor’s office. Only one injection is placed into the abdominal cavity.
  • No rejection phenomenon – This complication, which typically requires aggressive pharmacological management, seems to be eliminated with the protective coating. In many cases rejection is worse than the disease itself.
  • Prevention of diabetic complications - Of great importance is the added benefit of producing precursor substances which may help prevent possible complications of diabetes.
  • Vast tissue supply - Literally millions of pigs are slaughtered each day.
  • Disease control - Donor animals could be raised in special facilities designed to prevent the spread of germs.

Yet even if this research leads to a effective widespread transplant approach, it is important to realize that the majority of the 14 million Type II Diabetics in our nation aren't off the hook. These individuals who tend to develop the disease later in life typically have sufficient or even elevated levels of insulin. Their insulin receptors do not function adequately to meet their needs. Therefore the transplant will not work for themæ at least not initially. Some, who eventually need insulin, could ultimately benefit.

This potential breakthrough arrives on the heels of some rather discouraging news. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Diabetes increased 33% in the US from 1990 to 1998. When we consider the fact that the incidence of Diabetes rose a shocking 70% among individuals aged 30-39, we must begin to take our health more seriously. It is our responsibility to change our lifestyle.

Proper nutrition, weight management, exercise and stress reduction must not be discounted. Do not ignore your own well-being with hopes of a breakthrough down the road. Know you can make a difference today. It's a fact that medical scientists are far better at preventing disease than treating it.

Yet for Type I Diabetics and Type IIs who presently require insulin, Opara’s research may be a life saver. His team is now studying two additional baboons who have recently received transplants. Only time will tell whether or not their technique is successful.

On a note of optimism, if all proceeds well, human trials could begin in just 18 months. Opara commented, "I pray every day that this technology becomes clinically viable, because I think it is going to be a tremendous change in the lifestyle of patients who have diabetes."

For now at least there's a glimmer of hope on the horizon for children who struggle with Diabetes each day. If ongoing animal and future human studies are successful, Diabetic children and their parents will not have to face a future of potentially devastating complications associated with a dreaded disease. Perhaps soon there will be a story about a pig and a baboonæ a "happy ever after" tale that really comes true - Mind Over Matter!

Sources: Centers for Disease Control (CDC), National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), National Health Examination Survey (NHES) and National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES)

©2001 Barry Bittman, MD all rights reserved

      
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 About The Author
Barry Bittman, MD is a neurologist, author, international speaker, award-winning producer/director and inventor. As CEO and Medical Director of the Mind-Body Wellness Center, a......moreBarry Bittman MD
 
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