Diabetes is a chronic, debilitating disease affecting all organ systems. In Australia, diabetes is a fastest-growing chronic disease; about 520,000 Australians are diagnosed with diabetes yearly. Type 1 diabetes represents 10 to 15% of all cases of diabetes and strikes children suddenly, makes them insulin dependent for life, and carries the constant threat of devastating complications including impaired wound healing, blindness, a high risk of infection, cardiovascular disease and kidney disease. Although the causes are not entirely understood, scientists believe the body's own immune system attacks and destroys insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. One group of cells found in human blood, known as white cells or leukocytes, includes neutrophils, monocytes and lymphocytes. These cells are major members of human cellular immune system. Abnormal behaviour of these cells is thought to be a principal cause of type 1 diabetes and its complications. We are isolating leucocytes from patients with type 1 diabetes and examining their function to test agents which can return these cells back to normal.
Our diabetes study is intriguing – cell culture and animal studies using non-obese diabetic mice (a model of human type 1 diabetes) from the Sutton lab have found that administration of activated protein C (APC), a naturally occurring clotting agent, prevents the onset of diabetes. Now that identification of children who are likely to become diabetic is possible, it is feasible that APC may become a therapeutic agent to prevent diabetes. The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) in the USA have recognised these interesting findings and have funded this project as an “innovative grant” in 2008.
APC is unique in that it not only targets the abnormal immune response but also directly inhibits inflammation, which is associated with insulitis. Thus, APC controls the two major processes implicated in the pathogenesis of type1 diabetes, inflammation and auto-immunity, which may explain how it substantially reduces blood glucose levels and prevents diabetes in non-obese diabetic mice.
An International (PCT) Patent Application was filed in January 2006 with priority from Australian Provisional Patent Application “Treatment for Autoimmune and Inflammatory Conditions” filed by Northern Sydney Central Coast Area Health Service in January, 2005. Update The National Phase has been entered in July 2007 and we have taken out a patent application in Europe, the United States of America and Australia. Northern Sydney Central Coast Area Health Service is seeking to license this technology to a drug development company interested in taking the project to clinical trial stage.