An earlier version of this story misstated the number of people with Type 1 diabetes. Almost 11% of Missourians have diabetes, according to the 2021 Missouri Diabetes Report to the General Assembly. Type 1 diabetes is less common than Type 2. About 5%-10% of people with diabetes have Type 1, according to the CDC.
Diabetes is a chronic illness that involves extensive medical attention and patient self-management to prevent potential complications.
Almost 11% of Missourians have diabetes, according to the 2021 Missouri Diabetes Report to the General Assembly.
Type 1 diabetes is less common than Type 2. About 5%-10% of people with diabetes have Type 1, according to the CDC.
Treatments are an issue for patients who have Type 1 diabetes. Immunosuppressant drugs are the only way right now, and they are harmful to the body rather than helpful.
In May 2022, it was announced that two MU medical researchers, Haval Shirwan and Esma Yolcu, professors of child health and molecular microbiology and immunology in the MU School of Medicine, worked collaboratively with Georgia Tech and Harvard to develop a new diabetes treatment.
The collective group of researchers has received grants from several foundations, including the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
Despite 20-plus years of research with the hope of developing a more effective and immune-protective treatment solution, Shirwan and Yolcu said they feel inspired that their discovery will lead to exceptional change among those with Type 1 diabetes.
The approach includes transplanting pancreas cells from a donor that produces insulin, also known as pancreatic islets. The mechanism in which this occurs is called apoptosis, which happens when the protein destroys the “rogue” immune cells from formulating diabetes.
In a spring press release for the publication of their work, Yolcu said, “This technology enabled the production of a novel form of FasL and its presentation on transplanted pancreatic islets cells or microgels to prevent being rejected by rogue cells.
“Following insulin-producing pancreatic islet cell transplantation, rogue cells move to the graft for destruction but are eliminated by FasL.”
An interview with Shirwan and Yolcu emphasized the advantage of this new technology and the opportunity for those with the disease to forgo consuming immunosuppressive drugs.
“The major problem with immunosuppressive drugs is that they can have adverse effects,” Shirwan said. “Our development trains the immune system to accept rather than reject the islets.”
Diabetes is a disease that affects the body’s ability to produce or use insulin. This natural hormone regulates how blood sugar is used in the body.
Those who suffer from Type 1 diabetes are unable to control their blood sugar levels, because of the lack of insulin produced. That loss of control can lead to life-threatening complications.
Shirwan and Yolcu have continued to work on their two stages of preclinical models to prepare for FDA trials.
Based on FDA review regulations, there are two types of reviews, priority and standard. If a company or researcher(s) submit a standard review, that examination takes around 10 months. A priority review aims to be completed within six months.
A priority review is only applicable if the development “directs attention and resources to evaluate drugs that would significantly improve the treatment, diagnosis, or prevention of serious conditions,” according to the FDA.
“A Phase 1 clinical trial to test our approach’s efficacy for treating Type 1 diabetic patients has been targeted for the first half of 2024,” Shirwan said.
This is promising information for Missouri residents who have this disease. As of 2020, the CDC ranks Missouri No. 25 on the list for most cases of diabetes, averaging 10.9% of the population.
Shirwan and Yolcu’s discovery also has the opportunity to work as treatment for other diseases through other combinations.
After the publication of their study and research, parents contacted the researchers to tell their stories.
One father from Australia told Yolcu he was willing to give up his wealth to help his child receive any form of treatment other than wallet draining, lifelong immunosuppressive drugs.
The researchers believe their role and responsibility is to expedite new discoveries, so children and individuals who are suffering have another alternative to treatment. Additionally, once pushed through clinical trials and FDA approval, they said their mission is to make this as affordable and accessible as possible.

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