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Wed, Nov-22-00, 17:24
Wednesday November 22 2:05 PM ET
Gene Therapy Used to Cure Rodents with Diabetes

LONDON (Reuters) - Scientists said on Wednesday they have used a new type of gene therapy to cure diabetes in mice and rats which could pave the way for new treatments for millions of people with the disease.

Diabetes is a chronic disease that begins in childhood or early adulthood. Sufferers produce little or no insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels, and must rely on a strict diet or intravenous injection to control the disorder.

But researchers at Yonsei University in Korea and the University of Calgary in Canada have developed a technique to deliver an altered human insulin gene into mice and rats suffering from type one diabetes.

``This new gene therapy may have potential therapeutic value for the cure of autoimmune diabetes in humans,'' Ji-Won Yoon, of the University of Calgary, and his colleagues said in a report in the science journal Nature.

People with type one diabetes produce no insulin because their body destroys the insulin-secreting beta cells in the pancreas.

The scientists delivered the altered insulin gene into the diabetic rodents with a modified virus injected into the animals.

After the animals were treated, the altered gene kept the animals' blood sugar at normal levels during the eight-month study.

Although the results are encouraging, Jerrold Olefsky of the University of California in San Diego said it is still a huge leap from treating animals to humans.

``Rodents are quite different from humans with respect to maintaining glucose (sugar) levels, and extending these results to human physiology may prove a challenge,'' he said in a commentary in Nature.

One of the biggest challenges would be getting the insulin levels right because secretions of the hormone change with diet, age, weight and growth status.

``So a gene-therapy approach must be able to modulate insulin delivery in response to changing needs over time,'' he said.

``Despite these issues, the paper represents a good example of how basic research can be applied to problems of clinical significance,'' he added.