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Researchers: Drug Cocktail May Help Diabetes Patients Make More Insulin-Producing Cells

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) - There could be a major advance towards a cure for diabetes.

Researchers at Mount Sinai are reporting on a drug cocktail that helps the body make more insulin-producing cells.

CBS2's Dr. Max Gomez explains why that's a critical part of a diabetes cure.

Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes are really different diseases, Gomez explained.

What they have in common is that eventually the diabetic runs our of insulin-producing cells called beta cells.

That's when their blood sugar soars. So part of a diabetes cure has to be replacing or making more beta cells.

"I was always tired and hungry, thirsty and just couldn't keep any weight on," said Alex Seeman.

She didn't realize it, but those are all classic signs of the Type 1 diabetes she was diagnosed with 19 years ago.

She wears an insulin pump and a continuous glucose monitor, but managing her diabetes is still a huge chore.

"I still test my blood six times a day, count every carb I eat, keep track of exercise," she said.

In Type 1 diabetes, the immune system is destroying her insulin-making beta cells. A number of researchers are making progress towards shutting down that auto-immune destruction. But in order to make enough insulin to control blood sugar, a diabetic would still have to replace the beta cells.

Some scientists are trying transplants or stem cells.

"Those approaches probably aren't enough to meet the need for millions of diabetics," said Dr. Andrew Stewart of Mount Sinai Icahn School of Medicine.

So, Stewart reasoned that if both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetics still have some beta cells, even after many years, maybe there are medications that could induce those remaining cells to multiply and regenerate.

"We've identified a cocktail of drugs that increases the multiplication rate from 2 percent up to as much as 10 or 15 percent," Stewart said.

In a major new study, Stewart argues that that's enough to normalize blood sugar in diabetics. The drugs have made human beta cells replicate in petri dishes, transplanted mice and several other ways.

If this can be done in people like Alex, it would be a huge advance.

"I can't imagine it, it would be a dream," she said.

Like all drugs, this cocktail would likely have side effects.

Now the challenge is finding a way to deliver the drugs just to the pancreas, where the remaining beta cells live. One strategy is to attach the drugs to antibodies or other molecules that home in on markers on beta cells.

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