Toronto scientists cure disease in mice
Friday, December 15, 2006
In a discovery that has stunned even those behind it, scientists at a Toronto hospital say they have proof the body's nervous system helps trigger diabetes, opening the door to a potential near-cure of the disease that affects millions of Canadians. Diabetic mice became healthy virtually overnight after researchers injected a substance to counteract the effect of malfunctioning pain neurons in the pancreas...
They also conclude that there are far more similarities than previously thought between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, and that nerves likely play a role in other chronic inflammatory conditions, such as asthma and Crohn's disease. ... The problems stem partly from inflammation -- and eventual death -- of insulin-producing islet cells in the pancreas.
Dr. Dosch had concluded in a 1999 paper that there were surprising similarities between diabetes and multiple sclerosis, a central nervous system disease. His interest was also piqued by the presence around the insulin-producing islets of an "enormous" number of nerves, pain neurons primarily used to signal the brain that tissue has been damaged. Suspecting a link between the nerves and diabetes, he and Dr. Salter used an old experimental trick -- injecting capsaicin, the active ingredient in hot chili peppers, to kill the pancreatic sensory nerves in mice that had an equivalent of Type 1 diabetes.
"Then we had the biggest shock of our lives," Dr. Dosch said. Almost immediately, the islets began producing insulin normally ... It turns out the nerves secrete neuropeptides that are instrumental in the proper functioning of the islets. Further study by the team, which also involved the University of Calgary and the Jackson Laboratory in Maine, found that the nerves in diabetic mice were releasing too little of the neuropeptides, resulting in a "vicious cycle" of stress on the islets.
So next they injected the neuropeptide "substance P" in the pancreases of diabetic mice, a demanding task given the tiny size of the rodent organs. The results were dramatic. The islet inflammation cleared up and the diabetes was gone. Some have remained in that state for as long as four months, with just one injection....
While pain scientists have been receptive to the research, immunologists have voiced skepticism at the idea of the nervous system playing such a major role in the disease.
This was one of those announcements that makes a person say, “Oh, that just makes SO much sense!” And then, “Capsaicin? The ingredient in bear repellant spray?” But then, “Well, what about the people who say they can quiet stomach ulcers with capsaicin?” Or “how does that hot rub-on stuff work anyway?”
Ever since my diagnosis with Diabetes 2, I’ve been reading and talking to people who say that there has to be more to it than just bad eating. A virus, a mutation -- what? Something this elusive is likely to be due to an interface: how two things fit together, key-in-lock. It appears that discovering the molecule called “leptin” has a lot to do with this. I need to Google leptin, geriatrics, pain neurons, autonomic nervous system, the Isles of Langerhans and metabolic disorder -- I expect a lot of others are doing the same.
We have a hard time seeing two dissimilar things as being parts of one whole: we see a heart and a lung -- rather than the complex outgrowths of each other that they are: the oxygenating synergy. So no wonder no one saw these little dots, “the Isles of Langerhans,” as anything but secreting bodies, nothing to do with pain neurons. What the heck are pain neurons doing in the pancreas anyway? But it seems as though there are a lot of cases of pancreatic cancer and what’s THAT about? It IS supposed to be very painful. Probably related to the environment.
I think of my classmate at Meadville who had the “flu” and afterwards had diabetes 1. I think of the years while working at the City of Portland with the best insurance in town and the cream of the doctors -- all the while showing symptoms of diabetes but never being diagnosed. Never being tested. In fact, never realizing my own self. Just beginning to have the overwhelming feeling that I’d better get out of there, better get back to Montana or I wouldn’t have many years left.
Now that I take blood sugar readings all the time, I realize that every emotion, every stress, even benign changes like getting off schedule, every small excess of any food but especially some foods, makes my blood sugar change. I’m not measuring insulin: they say it’s as bad to have a lot of extra insulin in your system as it is to have excess blood sugar. This is so touchy that if I notice my eyesight is a bit blurry -- usually while at the computer -- it’s most likely due to high blood sugar in my retinas, which makes them hold water and therefore thicken, changing the focus slightly. My blood sugar moves up and down as much as my blood pressure and responds to much the same things. Since both are controlled by the autonomic nervous system -- messengers of the brain that are not conscious -- it’s only natural that they would vary together. In fact, the eye doctor said he couldn’t tell whether my original alarming eye hemorhhages were due to one or the other.
A mouse cure does not constitute a miracle, but this appears to be a breakthrough on the scale of the discovery of the retrovirus or the prion. If it IS a cure for diabetes, it may very well be the key to chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia -- all those mysterious things that many doctors don’t believe exist. At my check-up next week I’ll be interested to discuss this with my doctor, a woman who thinks I exist. In fact, my niece -- who goes to the same doctor -- and I agree that this doctor thinks her patients should be treated with as much patience and dignity as her horses -- and around here that’s saying something.
Oh, and around here we know quite a bit about the usefulness of capsaicin bear spray, too. But to heal mice??!!!