Promising Research to Improve the Lives of Type 1 Diabetics
Could you imagine an end to the need for daily insulin injections for type 1 diabetes patients? There is hope that this could become a reality thanks to Dr Kisha Sivanathan’s research, focusing on a potential therapy that could see the end of daily injections and insulin pumps for patients living with this heartbreaking condition.
Working closely with Professor Toby Coates at the Royal Adelaide Hospital (RAH), Dr Sivanathan recently finishing her PhD project where she looked at enhancing the function of stem cells to prevent islet transplantation rejection for type 1 diabetics. She is now focusing on using our own stem cells to make insulin producing cells.
Unfortunately, when someone suffers from type 1 diabetes their body has an autoimmune response. This means their immune system attacks the islets (insulin producing cells of the pancreas), resulting in symptoms including regular tiredness, blurred vision, mood swings, headaches and skin infections.
“In type 1 diabetic patients, the immune system attacks the islet cells and destroys them so there is no insulin production. Without insulin, the body’s cells cannot turn glucose (sugar) into energy,” Dr Sivanathan said.
“Having high blood glucose levels can cause a range of health issues, which drastically impact a patient’s quality of life. This is why current therapy for type 1 diabetes is daily insulin injections to restore insulin levels so the body can maintain a normal blood glucose level.”
Currently, the only therapy to stop insulin injections is transplanting islet cells from the pancreas of a deceased donor. Unfortunately, the limitation is that a single patient requires several islet transplants not just from one pancreas but at least three.
“My current post-doctoral study is looking at how we can use stem cells to make insulin producing cells which will replace the need to rely on deceased donors.”
If successful, this could be an effective treatment for people suffering from type 1 diabetes and could see the end of daily insulin injections!
“If we can use patients’ own stem cells to make insulin producing cells, this would hopefully restore glucose levels in the body. Another advantage of that is we can grow stem cells in abundance and the risk of long term rejection would be eliminated as will the side effects, preventing the need for immunosuppressive drugs that controls rejection.”
It will be an exciting year ahead next year for Dr Sivanathan who will be pursuing her research at Harvard University in Boston for two years and back in Adelaide with Prof Coates for two years after that. This was made possible as Dr Sivanathan received the highly competitive and prestigious CJ Martin National Health and Medical Research Council Early Career Fellowship. It is thanks to your support of Kidney, Transplant and Diabetes Research Australia that has enabled us to support Dr Sivanathan’s groundbreaking research she is now pursuing overseas!
“I’m excited to progress my PhD findings and look at how we can modify and enhance adult stem cells for islet transplantation rejection,” Dr Sivanathan said.
“This whole purpose of my research is to change the lives of those living with type 1 diabetes and if successful, this will give hope to type 1 diabetics and improve their quality of life – eliminating daily symptoms and the need of daily injections!”
It is thanks to your support Dr Sivanathan can continue her research and improve the lives of Australians living with type 1 diabetes. We look forward to updating you on Dr Sivanathan’s revolutionary research at Harvard University.