Tech researchers search for a cure for diabetes - KCBD NewsChannel 11 Lubbock

Tech researchers search for a cure for diabetes

By Tiffany Pelt - email

LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) – More than 23 million people are effected by diabetes nationwide, but here at home Texas Tech researchers are searching for a cure. Sunday about a dozen parents of children with diabetes toured the Tech research lab that could one day end diabetes.

"I think it's important for them to see because it provides hope for the parents that have these little kids who have had diabetes for years," said Martha Atwood, American Diabetes Association executive director. "The Centers for Disease Control says it's the number one fastest growing disease in the U.S. and it affects every part of your body so it's critical that we continue to search for a cure."

That's exactly what Dr. Jannette Dufour has been doing since 1994. She started her research as a student and is now an assistant professor at Texas Tech leading the research on diabetes here in Lubbock.

"My research is basically trying to develop a way to improve the treatments on diabetes," said Dufour.

When a person has type-one diabetes their body's immune system kills insulin-producing cells that help regulate blood sugar. This forces the person to live a life of insulin injections just to stay alive, and run the risk of future problems like heart disease, kidney failure and blindness.  

"We want to try to develop a way that we can replace those cells so they can now make insulin," said Dufour.

What makes Dufour's research at Tech so unique is the type of cells they're using called Sertoli cells. She's one of very few in the world that are using these special cells to fight diabetes.

There are already several places that do transplants of insulin-producing tissues to replace the initial cells the body rejected. While the transplants are 80% successful for the first year allowing the patients to stop insulin injections, problems once again surface over a period of time.

"What happens is those cells are killed and so we need a way to protect those cells so they can survive forever. If you can get those cells to survive then that's basically a cure," said Dufour.

Dufour says theoretically the Sertoli cells should act like bodyguards to the transplanted insulin tissue, keeping them safe against the immune system's attacks. Currently her lab is transplanting insulin producing tissues with the Sertoli cells in mice to test the theories.

While there is no cure yet and her research is still in its basic stages, Dufour hopes she can one day help create a diabetes free future. "I hope that they see that the research we're doing is exciting, and hopefully they know there's a lot of people out there who are working on different things. I think our work has a lot of potential," she said.

Money raised by The American Diabetes Association in Lubbock helps fund research like Dufour's through their walks and fundraisers. To learn more on how you can help the fight against diabetes (click here.)

Copyright 2011 KCBD. All rights reserved.

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