Can Islets Regenerate? INGAP May Someday Cure Diabetes

Renowned researcher Aaron Vinik, MD, PhD, believes that the ability to generate new insulin-secreting islets from a patient’s own pancreatic cells represents a potential cure for diabetes, without the need for antirejection medications.

According to Vinik, the islet neogenesis associated protein (INGAP) gene technology overcomes the weaknesses of other potential cures by generating new cells recognized by the body as its own. This results in insulin production, normalization of blood glucose levels, and a potential to provide permanent control of diabetes. Vinik also believes that INGAP has the potential to prevent diabetes and reverse the progression of diabetes.

How Does INGAP Work?

The INGAP gene stimulates regeneration and growth of islet cells from immature stem cells that survive the assault of diabetes. The INGAP technology should also increase insulin production whether there is insulin resistance or not.

In January 1999, Vinik told DIABETES HEALTH that stem cells are precursor cells for pancreatic islets which, in all likelihood, reside in the ductular system.

We can tell that one of those cells is destined to become an islet cell, and will transform from a ductile characteristic into a cell that makes insulin,” says Vinik, who explains that there are three conditions in which ductile cells can be coaxed into becoming islets:

  • Cellophane wrapping, or wrapping the ducts in cellophane, produces partial obstruction of the ducts. New cells then grow out from the ducts, thus transforming into endocrine cells;
  • Use of Ilotropin, which is an extract of a regenerated pancreas which works by “turning on” insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, and

In research published in the May 1, 1997 issue of The Journal of Clinical Investigation, Vinik’s research team at East Virginia Medical School (EVMS) Strelitz Diabetes Institutes and a team of researchers from McGill University in Montreal demonstrated that INGAP stimulates new islet formation in diabetic hamsters. When INGAP was injected in diabetic hamsters, the protein caused islet regeneration, and, essentially, cured the diabetes in 50 percent of the animals. The other 50 percent did not respond to the INGAP protein.

Vinik, says that no clinical trials for INGAP are planned as of yet, as he and fellow EVMS researchers are in the development phase of the compound.

“Clearly we wish to develop it as a means of treating people with diabetes, but it is premature for us to be thinking about going to the FDA right now,” says Vinik.

Joining Forces to Further Develop INGAP

EVMS and GMP Companies, Inc. of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, have signed a license and research funding agreement that will accelerate research efforts surrounding the INGAP gene. Over the next five years, the agreement provides for $6 million in research funding. The agreement also includes a license fee, research milestones, and royalty structure.

Previously, INGAP had been licensed to Eli Lilly. According to EVMS spokespersons, the relationship was dissolved in what Lilly called a “business decision.”

“We are so pleased to be working with Drs. Vinik and Georges, who we recognize as internationally renowned physicians and physician-scientists,” said Bart Chernow, MD, president of GMP Companies, Inc. “Although the research is still in its early stages, we are hopeful the promise translates to improved care of diabetic patients.”

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