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Skin grafts could replace the need for insulin injections in diabetics

skin grafts
CRISPR gene-editing therapy — administered through skin grafts — could help treat Type-2 diabetes and obesity, according to cutting-edge work carried out by researchers at the University of Chicago Medical Center.

Genetically modifying glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP1), a hormone which stimulates the pancreas to secrete insulin, the researchers found that they were able to both decrease appetite and regulate blood sugar levels in mice. The work suggests that treatments such as insulin shots for diabetics could one day be replaced by simple skin grafts. This would be a significant advance since the procedure is safe, minimally invasive, inexpensive, and easy to monitor — as well as not requiring patients to administer their own ongoing treatment.

“Skin transplant is easy to make with cultured skin stem cells, and has been used clinically for treatment of burn wound for decades,” Xiaoyang Wu, an assistant professor at the University of Chicago, told Digital Trends. “In this study, we took advantage of this well-established platform and showed that skin transplant with engineered skin stem cells can be used to deliver therapeutic proteins for treatment of obesity and diabetes. In animal models, we [have shown] this technology can reduce body weight gain and inhibit Type-2 diabetes development.”

In the study, two groups of mice — one with the skin grafts and another without — were fed a high-fat diet. Those which had undergone the gene therapy gained only half the weight of those which had not, and developed less resistance to insulin. (Resistance to insulin can be a symptom that commonly precedes Type-2 diabetes.)

“Our proof-of-concept work demonstrated the possibility for using engineered skin graft for treatment of many non-skin diseases,” Wu said. “Clinical translation of our findings will be relatively easy as skin transplantation in human patients have been well established and clinically used for many years. It is also a very versatile platform. The engineered skin grafts can be used to release many different therapeutic molecules, and the technique can be used for treatment of many other diseases, such as genetic disorders, including urea cycle disorders and hemophilia.”

A paper describing the work was recently published in the journal Cell Stem Cell. Between this and some of the other innovative diabetes-related projects, hopefully we are not too far from finding a more permanent way to improve life for the more than the 30.3 million U.S. adults who suffer from diabetes.

Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
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