CHARLESTON, S.C., Dec. 31 (UPI) -- A $1.68 million National Institutes of Health grant will fund research aiming to improve treatment for chronic pancreatitis, as well as further a potential cure for type 1 diabetes, the Medical University of South Carolina announced this week.
Earlier studies by researchers at the university showed injecting Alpha 1 anti-trypsin, or AAT, into mice during islet transplantation prevented the rodents from developing diabetes and improved liver transplant results.
The grant will be used to study whether AAT can reduce inflammation in the pancreas, which damages insulin production and is the cause of chronic pancreatitis, the researchers said in a press release.
"AAT, most commonly used for the treatment of emphysema for more than 25 years, has an excellent safety record," said Dr. Hongjun Wang, a researcher at the Medical University of South Carolina. "While much of the work associated with AAT has been directed at lung and liver disease, it may help in the treatment of other diseases, including chronic pancreatitis, which can be incredibly painful."
For patients with chronic pancreatitis, the organ is often removed, but this causes type 1 diabetes because the body loses its ability to make insulin.
Islet transplantation -- cells taken from a patient or donor's pancreas and injected into the liver -- allows the body to continue making insulin, preventing diabetes, but is not always successful. "In the best outcomes, the patient would not be diabetic at all," Wang said
Islet transplantation therapy has been going on for about 25 years, with a patient in an ongoing clinical trial already "cured" of type 1 diabetes and requiring no insulin injections because her body is making it.
"Just imagine a day when people with type 1 diabetes no longer need to take their insulin," Wang said. "That's the future. That's the direction we are going."