Public Release: 

EVMS receives more than $1 million in federal funds to develop new ways to reverse type 1 diabetes

Results could have broader application to other autoimmune diseases

Eastern Virginia Medical School

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IMAGE: Dr. David Taylor-Fishwick works in the lab. view more

Credit: Dan Shuman

Researchers at the Eastern Virginia Medical School Strelitz Diabetes Center have been awarded a $1,076,250 grant by the Department of Defense (DoD) Peer Reviewed Medical Research Program to develop new ways of reversing the underlying causes of Type 1 diabetes.

David Taylor-Fishwick, PhD, associate professor of internal medicine and director of the Cell, Molecular and Islet Biology Laboratory, leads the team whose research applies to both regenerative and autoimmune medicine.

"Type 1 diabetes is caused by an autoimmune attack that destroys the insulin-producing beta cells, and the body does not automatically regenerate or replace these cells," explains Dr. Taylor-Fishwick. "The unique challenge in reversing Type 1 diabetes is to regenerate the insulin-producing beta cells and to stop the body's autoimmune attack."

Insulin is the hormone that helps the body convert glucose from food into energy. When the beta cells are destroyed, no insulin can be produced. Insulin replacement therapy helps the body maintain normal glucose levels, but doesn't prevent the serious diabetes health problems such as blindness, nerve damage, heart disease and kidney failure.

Dr. Taylor-Fishwick's research on beta cell regeneration has focused on INGAP (Islet Neogenesis Associated Protein), branded as Exsulin™, the breakthrough discovery made by Aaron I. Vinik, PhD, MD, director of research at the Strelitz Diabetes Center, and Dr. Lawrence Rosenberg of McGill University. Published trials of Exsulin™ demonstrated promising results in both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes patients.

The DoD grant will fund the next phase in the team's research - finding a way to neutralize the immune system's attack of the beta cells. This immune attack occurs at the onset of diabetes and may continue after Type 1 diabetes has appeared. The benefits of this research may also apply to other autoimmune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

Dr. Taylor-Fishwick and his team will test several experimental drugs developed by Jerry Nadler, MD, chair of internal medicine and director of the EVMS Strelitz Diabetes Center. The compounds are designed to modify the autoimmune response and stabilize beta cells. The goal is to develop these compounds into an oral pill.

"The Department of Defense, through its Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program, is especially interested in research to combat autoimmunity," Dr. Taylor-Fishwick says. "So part of our work is to block the process of autoimmunity that occurs in diabetes. We are using a drug called Lisofylline (LSF) and related molecules to block interleukin-12, a protein that triggers the autoimmune response," he explains. "By targeting interleukin-12 signaling, we hope to redirect the immune system, but not wipe it out."

The researchers hope that one of these compounds, when used in conjunction with Exsulin™, may help to create a combination therapy regimen that could achieve a functional cure for Type 1 diabetes.

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About EVMS: Eastern Virginia Medical School was established in 1973 to provide better health care options for Hampton Roads. The EVMS focus on teaching, discovering and caring ensures high-quality medical education for aspiring physicians and health professionals; the advancement of innovative medical research; and high-quality, patient-centered care.

About DiaKine: DiaKine specializes in clinical development-stage research and has licensed Lisofylline and related orally active therapeutic compounds that have shown promise as an effective treatment for controlling autoimmune diseases including diabetes.

About Exsulin: Exsulin Corporation is a therapeutic development company targeting regeneration of insulin-producing cells. Exsulin Corporation holds the global, exclusive license for INGAP and is the sponsor of a Phase II clinical trial with its lead compound, Exsulin™, that is currently enrolling patients at Mayo Clinic and McGill University. The trial is targeted at regeneration of insulin-producing cells from a patient's own pancreas in people with established Type 1 diabetes.

About the Department of Defense Peer Reviewed Medical Research Program: The mission of the Department of Defense Peer Reviewed Medical Research Program is to find and fund the best research to eradicate diseases and support the warfighter for the benefit of the American public. Funds are utilized to provide hope by promoting innovative research and recognize untapped opportunities.

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