Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that attacks and destroys beta cells from the pancreas, the cells responsible for the secretion of insulin. Insulin is the most important hormone in the balance of sugar levels, preventing hyperglycemia thus diabetes. Although more common type 2 diabetes is a condition where the body doesn’t produce enough insulin or the hormone itself doesn’t work properly. Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed during childhood and it becomes very inconvenient because these patients need to regularly inject themselves with insulin for the rest of their lives to keep in check their sugar levels.
Dr. Paul Bollyky, professor of infectious disease at Stanford has worked on an idea that preventing type 1 diabetes by using a specific pill would be better than forcing patients to inject insulin their whole lives. The challenging part of the study was finding what causes the immune system to attack its own cells. As doctors can’t biopsy the pancreas they had to work on dead pancreatic tissue, which was almost impossible to find as type 1 diabetes is not a deadly disease, if treated correctly. With the help of Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation the researchers received pancreatic tissues from people who died right after being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. By using these tissues they were able to find a link between hyaluronic acid and the destruction of pancreatic beta cells. Hyaluronic acid except for causing cells to swell, worsens inflammation by suppressing regulatory T-cells. Without the regulatory T-cells the immune system can attack healthy cells.
After discovering this link, Bollyky decided to try out hymecromone, a drug that is already being used in Europe and Asia to treat Gallstones complications. As a side effect, hymecromone shuts down hyaluronic acid production. Researchers have already finished a trial on genetically modified mice and observed that the immune cells in the pancreas didn’t over activate and their beta cells remained intact. The team won’t be able to start human trials until the FDA doesn’t approve hymecromone usage in America. If the research will be able to move on and proves to be effective type 1 diabetes patients will be able to replace insulin injections with this pill and never have to worry again about their sugar levels.