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Aberdeen scientist takes a step closer to diabetes cure

Date: 17 August 1999
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The Juvenile Diabetes Foundation (UK) has been awarded a grant of £219,000 by the National Lottery Charities Board to fund ground-breaking research at the University of Aberdeen into developing a cure for diabetes.

Professor Kevin Docherty, an internationally respected expert in research into the causes of diabetes, hopes within the next five years to have developed an alternative to dependency on the drug insulin for millions of sufferers of the condition.

Professor Docherty said the development of genetically engineered cells, which could be implanted into patients, could result in diabetics no longer having to depend on insulin to survive.

“The grant will fund a three-year research programme to develop super beta cells that will ultimately restore the ability to secrete insulin, a vital hormone essential to life,” he said.

“Preliminary findings have stimulated considerable interest in the medical community and the potential now exits to ensure that an optimised cell line can be brought from the laboratory bench to the patient in a very short time. Successful development of this cell line could lead to the Holy Grail of ?-cell research – an inexhaustible supply of normally functioning human cells for scientific investigation and clinical use.”

The grant will give a tremendous boost to the research that has been carried out in Aberdeen in collaboration with colleagues in Leicester, Sheffield and London, he added.

Annwen Jones, Executive Director of the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation (UK) also welcomed the grant.

“Diabetes affects over 1.5million people in the UK and is a life-threatening illness. At a time when the incidence of childhood diabetes is increasing at an alarming rate – doubling in the past 10 years alone – this grant endorses the work and sole purpose of the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation (UK), which is to fund research into finding a cure.

“The discovery of insulin in 1922 freed millions of people with diabetes from a death sentence. This grant gives the potential now, some 80 years later, to herald the end of this disease once and for all.”

Professor Docherty and his colleagues have already made a significant breakthrough in discovering that insulin-secreting tissue removed from children with neo-natal hypoglycaemia proliferates in culture.  The condition is potentially lethal without radical surgery to remove the pancreas of the affected child within the first month of birth.  Once removed, the defect in the cells responsible for the symptoms of the disease can be ‘repaired’ by genetic engineering.  The resultant cells – a human ?-cell line, available in virtually unlimited amounts – could be suitable for transplantation into diabetic patients.

Within these approaches, Professor Docherty aims to develop human insulin-secreting cell lines that have been enhanced to resist immune attack – super ?-cells.  The project’s ultimate aim is to have a supply of super ?-cells prepared ready for transplantation trials in humanised animal models.


Further information

Professor Kevin Docherty, Head of Department of Molecular and Cell Biology (01224) 681818, ext 3069/3121

Annwen Jones, Executive Director of the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation (UK)
25 Gosfield Street, London, W1P 8EB        (0171) 436 3112

Alison Ramsay on telephone +44 (0)1224-273778 or email