Targeted DNA delivery holds hope for diabetes
Jamie Joseph loves a challenge. That’s why the School of Pharmacy professor is trying to unravel the mysteries of diabetes. “It’s one of the most perplexing diseases to study; there’s still lots to learn about it, it’s so complex.”
In Type 1 diabetes, beta cells (ß-cells) are destroyed at an early age by the immune system, he explains. Type 2 diabetes is a progressive disease in which ß-cells gradually die off.
Our research goals are to try to discover new treatments for both diseases.
Joseph is trying to understand how ß-cells, which secrete insulin, sense glucose and other nutrients. Located in the islet structures in the pancreas, the ß-cells regulate blood insulin levels by metabolizing glucose. The Canadian Institutes of Health Research is funding his work in this area.
A second research initiative explores the use of islet transplants to cure Type 1 diabetes. With a grant from the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Joseph is working with researchers at the University of Alberta.
The problem,” he says, “is too few organ donors for the number of potential recipients.
We’re trying to stimulate donor islets to be more active by manipulating genes in the ß-cells to enhance the function of insulin secretion. Hopefully, that will reduce the number of islets needed for transplantation, increasing the number of possible recipients from each donor.”
To stimulate the islets, Joseph uses microbubbles, commonly employed in cardiac ultrasounds.
We take a piece of DNA and attach it to microbubbles. We can inject the microbubbles where they can be targeted to deliver the genes to the pancreas.”
He sees potential in this area of research, particularly since each component of the microbubble technique has already been approved by U.S. and Canadian regulatory agencies.
The ß-cell study and the islet transplant research are connected, says Joseph, in that information gleaned from the ß-cells can be used to enhance islet function.