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From Vandalia, Ohio, USA:

I am 13 years of age and I hate my diabetes. I am under very good control. But one day my dad came rushing in the door and told me that they did this experiment to someone (or something), and what they did was they took a saliva cell and genetically engineered it to produce insulin. And it supposedly worked. Can you tell me if this is true, and if so can you give me all of the details?


Well, don't get too excited because the 'someone' was a laboratory rat; but don't be disappointed either because steady advances are being made almost every month with new insulins, new regimens for giving insulins, better pumps etc and of course also with transplanting insulin producing cells in various ways. And its very important that you are in good control, well done!

You probably remember from biology classes at school that all mammalian cells have inside them a nucleus, which rather like a minute ball of wool consists of a tangled mass of chromatin. This is a sort of biological tape on which all the myriad functions of the body are coded, so that when the cell multiplies all the successor cells end up with exactly the same information. Recent advances in what is called molecular genetics have made it possible to isolate individual functions in this genome and to consider reintroducing them into cells where for some reason or other that function may be missing. This kind of technology is used to manufacture human insulin, although bacterial or yeast cells are used as the host rather than human ones.

Disappointingly, there has been very little luck getting this to work in mammals including man. There are perhaps two major problems, the first is to introduce the genetic material into a sufficient number of cells. One of the favorite technics here is to put it first into a 'retrovirus' and to then let the virus infect the cell. There are then ways of preventing the virus from reproducing; but not stopping the activity of the replacement genetic material. The other problem is that even if you do introduce the ability to make human insulin in this way into the salivary gland of a rat and it works you also have to introduce all the very complex control mechanisms so that the insulin is produced when blood sugar goes up; but reduced when it goes down.

All terribly complicated; but its moving along bit by bit.


Original posting 7 Dec 97


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Last Updated: Tuesday April 06, 2010 15:08:56
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