A Cure for Diabetes in the Works at UI

Jan 30, 2015

Research conducted at the University of Iowa and the Iowa City VA Health Care System could one day cure diabetes.

Dr. Nicholas Zavazava and his team have trained human skin cells to produce insulin in mice, a big step toward eliminating the need for pancreas transplants and insulin shots. He says the research has advanced even since they wrote the paper.

"The cells are so good that if I showed you human insulin cells and compared them to our cells you would not be able to tell the difference."

The other options for a diabetes cure have big obstacles to overcome. Transplants are scarce and Zavazava says embryonic cells risk both controversy and rejection by the patient's system. By contrast, cells taken from the patients themselves and developed with Zavazava's method will be recognized by the patients' bodies. He says there are still a few steps, including trials on pigs, before it can be implemented in humans. 

"We need to scale the production of these cells up so we're in a position to produce billions of cells because a human is much bigger than a mouse." 

He says a company in southern California is attempting human trials with a similar type of cell. On this News Buzz edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with Zavazava about his research.