Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Genetic Engineering - Diabetes

Phoebe Rutter 42885551

Genetic Engineering – Finding a Cure for Type 1 Diabetes

Diabetes is a serious condition, whereby the beta cells in the pancreas fail to produce insulin, the hormone that is responsible in maintaining regular blood glucose levels in the body (National Health Cail Centre , 2012). The disease, if undetected or poorly managed can result in kidney failure, blindness, strokes, heart failure, lower limb amputation and impotence. It has been recently estimated that approximately one million Australians have been diagnosed with the disease (National Health Cail Centre , 2012).

It is recognised that underlying all presentations of diabetes, there is impaired insulin response, due to dysfunction or loss of the beta cells (Fu, et al., 2007). It is the regulation of insulin secretion (by the beta cells) that is vital for glucose homeostasis (Fu, et al., 2007).
Research into Type 1 Diabetes focuses on both cures and treatments. One area of “cure research” involves Beta Cell therapy. Beta cell therapy is directed at replacing or regenerating the insulin producing beta cells, thereby restoring the body's ability to produce insulin (Junior Diabetes Research Foundation, 2012).
Scientists have recently made significant advances in the search for a cure of Type 1 Diabetes, employing genetic engineering. Through the use of genetic engineering, scientists manipulate an organism’s genome and create a DNA sequence with the required genetic elements (Fu, et al., 2007). This is then introduced into the host organism either indirectly through a vector system or directly through injection techniques.
Another form of genetic engineering involves removing genetic material from the target organism, creating what is known as a ‘knockout’ organism (Children's Hospital Eastern Ontario Research Institute, 2009).

Recently investigations undertaken by a specialised team, lead by Dr. Robert Screaton at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) Research Institute, have identified a protein known as the Lbk1 gene, that restricts insulin production. By using sophisticated genetic engineering in laboratory mice, the scientists removed the Lkb1 gene. (Children's Hospital Eastern Ontario Research Institute, 2009). The procedure resulted in the beta cells in the ‘knock out’ organisms both increasing in size and proliferation, as well as the cells storing and releasing greater quantities of insulin; thus improving glucose tolerance and protection against diet-induced hypoglycaemia. Significantly, this enhancement in the function of the beta cells of the lab mice was maintained for five months minimally (Union of Concerned Scientists, 2012).

Genetic engineering represents an artificial manipulation of the genetic code and has met with criticism of scientists “playing God” (Union of Concerned Scientists, 2012). However, as modern scientific investigation has shown, genetic engineering has the potential to eradicate disease and save lives. As discussed in Science Daily, sophisticated genetic engineering has lead to improvement in insulin-producing beta cells in diabetes and new knowledge in the understanding of Type 1 diabetes potentially leading to a cure. 

Source List

Children's Hospital Eastern Ontario Research Institute 2009, Genetic Engineering Improves Insulin-producing Beta Cells, Science Daily, viewed 19 March 2012,­ /releases/2009/10/091007124727.htm.

Fu, A., Cheuk-Him Ng, A., Depatie, C., Wijesekara, N., He, Y., Wang, G., et al. 7 October 2007, 'Loss of Lkb1 in Adult β Cells Increases β Cell Mass and Enhances Glucose Tolerance in Mice', Cell Metabolism , pp. 269-308.

Junior Diabetes Research Foundation 2012, Research Pathways, viewed 20 March 2012, JDRF:

National Health Cail Centre, January 2012,  Diabetes, Health Insite, viewed  March 19, 2012,

Union of Concerned Scientists. (2012). What Is Genetic Engineering?, Food and Agriculture viewed 20 March 2012,

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