Skin graft advances could fight diabetes and obesity
A genetically engineered skin transplant which could reverse diabetes and obesity could soon be trialled in humans.
Researchers in the US have shown it is possible to genetically modify human skin so it produces a hormone which triggers insulin production and controls blood sugar levels.
When transplanted into mice, the animals were diabetes free for four months without the need for injections. Animals fed on a high-fat diet also did not put on any weight.
"This paper is exciting for us because it is the first time we show engineered skin grafts can survive long term in mice, and we expect that in the near future this approach can be used as a safe option for the treatment of human patients," said senior author Dr Xiaoyang Wu, a stem cell biologist at the University of Chicago Ben May Department for Cancer Research. The team is hoping one day doctors will be able to take skin stem cells from a patient, genetically modify them to produce the insulin-boosting hormone, and then grow them into tissue which can be transplanted.
The researchers inserted the gene for glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP1), a hormone that stimulates the pancreas to secrete insulin.
Using CRISPR, a tool which acts like molecular scissors, the team inserted one mutation which extended the hormone's life in the blood stream, and fused the modified gene to an antibody fragment so that it would circulate in the blood stream longer.
The extra insulin removes excessive glucose from the bloodstream, preventing the complications of diabetes. GLP1 also reduces appetite, and so prevents weight gain.