Today, over 450 million adults are suffering from diabetes. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the number will rise to 700 million in about 20 years.
Hundreds of billions of U.S. dollars are spent globally every year managing the epidemic. In the past year, over 4 million people died from complications of the disease.
A small firm in Jerusalem is looking to make a dent in the staggering numbers and is proposing a new technology that will allow insulin dependent patients to get rid of their syringes and lead a diabetes free life.
Betalin Therapeutics has come up with a platform technology that combines cells and a biological scaffolding for those cells to situate themselves in and mimic their natural environment.
This combination creates an engineered micro-pancreas that can be implanted in a person during a minimally invasive procedure and will function as a replacement pancreas, solely regarding insulin functions.
“We replace the damages tissue with a functional new, functioning tissues, dead pancreas with a new pancreas which is engineered in the laboratory and implanted under the skin of the patient,” says Avi Treves, head of Research and Development at Betalin Therapeutics.
The company is currently raising funds in order to reach the clinical stage. Extensive laboratory tests on mice have been completed and have demonstrate success for the cell therapy they are proposing.
“The moment that we were convinced it’s working and that it’s going to be a product is when we saw the mice which were sick, the glucose level sky-rocketing, and (then) implanting the micro-pancreas, glucose levels go down, and the mice continue to run happily. That was an enlightening moment,” Treves told Xinhua.
Scientists at Betalin hope that the transplant procedure will last in each patient for a few years and can be repeated if necessary.
Treatment for diabetes that includes daily insulin injections could be abolished.
“We are a small company and we want to focus and have the first product in the market and then dream about others,” Treves said, indicating that Betalin has thoughts for other such applications of their breakthrough.
Betalin estimates the cost of the treatment at around 40,000 U.S. dollars. With the massive cost of diabetes currently, governments may be inclined to fund such a solution that will cut the overall cost of managing the worldwide epidemic.
For now, the technology has only been tested on animals and shown great potential.
“We are aiming to find the final product, the product that solves all the problems, the source of cells, immune rejection, continuity of function, the cost, everything is built in our product,” said Treves.
According to Treves, there are 10 companies around the world trying to find similar solutions to the complex problem.
The Betalin team is confident they have a winning solution on their hands. They are in a tight race with other scientists trying to come up with other medicines and cures for the fast spreading disease.
Even is successful, it is still a matter of years before patients will be able to access the treatment.
“Diabetes is so complicated, so I believe that each technology will have its unique advantages and we will be part of it,” Treves said.
For the many people suffering from diabetes, the promise of such solutions gives great hope for a healthier life, one with improved quality.