Health Watch - Hope For Diabetes and Lou Gehrig's Disease

It attacks the body's nerves and muscles, until patients eventually die. But now, there are two new breakthroughs for these diseases.

Ali Kutz's head is in the game, but there's something else she's always thinking about -- having type I diabetes.

"It's probably just the day in, day out; you never get a break from it," Kutz says.

"It's a complicated disease, and therefore, a cure would really be the best thing we could achieve," says Mattias von Herrath, M.D., a researcher at the La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology in San Diego, Calif.

Now, researchers are testing a combo of two therapies in the lab. It's a one-two punch that could be used in people newly-diagnosed with diabetes. The first part -- an injection -- stops the immune system from attacking healthy beta cells that make insulin. The second part -- a vaccine -- enhances the body's response and allows the cells to regenerate. The diabetes therapy could be used in people recently diagnosed and those who have pre-diabetes.

"If you've heard, your skin will regenerate and so forth; I think the beta cells and the pancreas can do this, too," Dr. von Herrath says.

Another breakthrough on the horizon -- one for ALS. People who get the devastating diagnosis are often told they only have a few years to live. Now, gene therapy could add years to their life.

"We hope to slow disease progression and, in our wildest dreams, we hope to dramatically to slow disease progression," says Don Cleveland, Ph.D., a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Diego.

Researchers have tested a molecular therapy in rats that turns off the bad gene in ALS. The drug is infused right into the spinal cord. It could be the first really effective treatment for the disease, and the first gene-silencing therapy used in people for a neurological disorder. The therapy could also be applied to diseases like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.

"That will be quite different -- if we are successful -- quite different from therapies available," Dr. Cleveland says.

These two different solutions are helping researchers get one step closer to a cure. The diabetes and ALS trials in people will start around 2008. They've already proven effective in animals with virtually no side effects.


Bonnie Ward
La Jolla Institute
(619) 303-3160


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