Researchers have recently discovered a gene that appears to be critical to the regeneration of islet cells. Lead researcher, Aaron Vinik, MD, PhD, admits that, ” … our findings are still preliminary and much more research in both animals and humans is needed.” But based on work done on hamsters, it appears that the discovery could have the potential for regenerating islet cells in humans.
Reversing Diabetes In Hamsters
In previous research, researchers from McGill University and the Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS) have reversed diabetes in hamsters using a mixture of proteins called Ilotropin. Ilotropin works by “turning on” insulin producing cells in the pancreas. Using this treatment, new islet cells can be regenerated where there were few or none before.
Since that discovery, researchers have refined the process and pinpointed the substances in Ilotropin responsible for regeneration. By comparing a regenerating pancreas with a dormant one, the gene involved in regeneration was identified.
Once the new gene was discovered, the scientists identified its structure and its protein products in the May 1, 1997 Journal of Clinical Investigation. After manufacturing a portion of that protein and incubating it with pancreatic duct cells from hamsters, the protein made islets grow.
Same Gene Present In Humans and Spurring Big Money Interest
The scientists have also been successful in identifying the protein in humans.
Realizing the potential in the research, the Diabetes Institutes Foundation, under the leadership of Leonard Strelitz committed additional money to the project in the early 1990s. Vinik says that the additional resources probably advanced the discovery of the gene by two to three years.
Since that time, Eli Lilly has announced an exclusive licensing agreement with EVMS and McGill University. Under the terms of the agreement, EVMS and McGill University will receive initial fees, milestone payments and royalties on potential product sales. In exchange, Lilly will receive an exclusive license to the gene and its related products as well as exclusive commercialization rights for any products that might result from the agreement.