Handing hope to the millions of sufferers in the UK, the new study suggests that a “probiotic pill” – one containing live bacteria – can radically reduce blood glucose levels.
In experiments researchers discovered that using a pill containing common bacteria found in the human gut can shift the control of glucose levels from the pancreas to the upper intestine.
It is believed that this “rewiring” of the body could revolutionise treatment for diabetes – both Types 1 and 2 – and potentially one day offer the possibility of a cure.
Professor John March, leading the research, said: “If it works really well in people, it could be that they just take the pill and wouldn’t have to do anything else to control their diabetes. It’s likely, though, that it will be used in conjunction with some other treatment.”
Diabetes occurs when the amount of glucose in a sufferer’s blood becomes too high because the body cannot use it properly. This happens when the pancreas does not produce any insulin (Type 1), or not enough insulin to help glucose enter the body’s cells – or the insulin that is produced does not work properly, known as insulin resistance (Type 2).
But the new study suggests a manufactured probiotic pill could shift control of glucose levels away from the pancreas – addressing both types of diabetes.
Published in the journal Diabetes, senior author Professor March and colleagues at Cornell University, New York, told how they had engineered a common strain of “friendly” human gut bacteria called Lactobacillus to secrete a peptide – a hormone that releases insulin in response to food.
Lactobacillus is a probiotic often used to prevent and treat diarrhoea, as well as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease and some skin disorders.
Over a period of 90 days, the research team ogave the modified probiotic in the form of a pill to a group of diabetic rats.
They then monitored its effects on blood glucose levels, comparing the outcomes with diabetic rats that did not receive it.
And the researchers were excited to discover that the rats which received the modified probiotic had blood glucose levels up to 30 per cent lower than those that did not receive the probiotic.
In addition, the team found that the probiotic appeared to convert the rats’ upper intestinal cells to act much like pancreatic cells which in healthy people secrete insulin and regulate blood glucose levels.
Professor March, of the Department of Biological and Environmental Engineering at Cornell, said this showed the treatment was moving the job of glucose control from the pancreas to the upper intestine.
“One of the things that’s useful about probiotics is that they’re generally regarded as safe by the Food and Drug Administration,” he said.
“They’re already available, people already take them, and they haven’t had any adverse side effects. It’s a good vehicle for delivering things to cells on the gastrointestinal tract.”
Professor March told how after being administered with the probiotic pills, the diabetic rats began showing signs more like the non-diabetic rats.
“The amount of time to reduce glucose levels following a meal is the same as in a normal rat, and it is matched to the amount of glucose in the blood, just as it would be with a normal-functioning pancreas,” he said.
“It’s moving the centre of glucose control from the pancreas to the upper intestine.”
He added: “If the rat is managing its glucose, it doesn’t need more insulin.”
The exciting new discovery has now left the team preparing to move onto the next stage – testing higher doses of the engineered probiotic in diabetic rats in order to see whether it can completely reverse the condition.
If successful, the probiotic could then be made into a pill for human use.
And the researchers hope diabetes sufferers would then simply be able to take the pill each morning to help manage their condition – or in some cases even reverse it.
Pressure groups say successful treatment is crucial to those with the condition.
A spokesman for the website diabetes.co.uk said: “Successful treatment makes all the difference to long-term health, and achieving balanced diabetes treatment can be the key to living with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
“Treatment varies for each individual, not simply on the type of diabetes that they have, but also more individual-specific diabetic treatment differences.”
Diabetes currently has no cure.
In England in 2010, there were approximately 3.1 million people aged 16 or over with diabetes – both diagnosed and undiagnosed.
By 2030, this figure is expected to rise to 4.6 million, with 90 per cent of those affected having type 2 diabetes.
The charity Diabetes UK estimates that around 850,000 people in England have diabetes, but haven’t been diagnosed. source express