Diabetes is a medical condition that affects more than 29.1 million people in the U.S.
People with diabetes don’t produce enough insulin on their own, leading to high blood sugar. Current treatment for diabetes is oral medications and injectable insulin, which often leads to wide swings of high and low blood sugar, sometimes leading to hospital stays.
But scientists studying genetics may be close to discovering a way to help diabetics and reduce their need for insulin injections. A genetically modified skin graft has been shown in the laboratory to protect mice from developing diabetes. These results suggest the same grafts could be used to help human patients who already have the disease.
Xiaoyang Wu and his co-workers at the University of Chicago use CRISPR gene-editing to alter the components of the gene GLP-1, which acts to decrease hunger and regulate blood sugar by stimulating the release of insulin, removing excess glucose from the blood.
Their edited GLP-1 gene was grown into skin grafts, both from mice and humans, which were then placed on the bodies of mice.
The experiment showed the gene was able to produce stable hormone levels for a period of three months. For patients with diabetes, this might suggest an appealing alternative to frequent insulin injections.
Wu says this technique can easily be adapted for use in human treatments. Skin grafts have been used for years to treat patients suffering from severe burns. He also suggests this may have uses in treating other types of disease.
Timothy Kieffer, of the University of British Colombia in Vancouver, Canada, says, “I do predict that gene and cell therapies will ultimately replace repeated injections for the treatment of chronic diseases.”
In the future, CRISPR gene editing may produce drugs to help fight obesity, assist in successful organ transplantation, and treat cancers. This gene editing allows scientists to easily turn on and off different genes in the human body, giving them more information about how genetics plays a part in disease.
Scientists are also using this technology to alter the genetics of plants and animals, creating crops that are more resistant to drought and disease or more muscular animals, both of which may produce more food products. Minnesota-based company Recombinetics has produced a herd of hornless dairy cattle, reducing the need for farmers to remove the horns of their stock.
CRISPR gene-editing technology will continue to increase scientists’ understanding of human genetics and produce alternative treatments for many conditions. Visit http://humanparagon.com/topics/genetics/ to learn more about human genetics.