Lettuce could be key to diabetes fight
September 3, 2007 (WLS) -- We often think of lettuce as a healthy food choice, but how about using leafy greens to cure type-one diabetes?
Scientists in Florida say genetically modified lettuce could hold the key to restoring the body's ability to produce insulin.
Researchers at the University of Central Florida injected the plant early on with the human gene for insulin. Scientists say after eight weeks on the powdered lettuce mice were producing normal levels of insulin.
"When this is absorbed, we anticipate that this methodology would cure diabetes and not simply provide temporary relief," Henry Daniell, Ph.D., researcher at UCF.
Therapeutic insulin is usually injected because strong stomach acids basically break it down. But researchers say when insulin is surrounded in a plant cell it's protected.
Once it's put inside a plant cell and ingested in the stomach, that plant cell is surrounded by a cell wall. The cell wall protects it from amino acids in the stomach and enzymes for digesting. But, when the plant cell reaches the stomach, bacteria poke holes in the plant cell wall and release the insulin.
The hope is when it is delivered in capsule form to humans it could be used to prevent diabetes before there are any symptoms.
It may also treat the disease in later stages and even eliminate it for good.
If successful, the treatment would not only make life easier for millions of diabetic people worldwide, but it could also dramatically reduce the cost of fighting the disease.
Scientists say the capsules cost just pennies to produce.
The National Institutes of Health provided $2 million to help fund the UCF study.
Human trials are expected to begin in the next couple years.
The idea was originally tested in tobacco. Researchers say they switched over to lettuce because it can be produced cheaply and does not carry the stigma associated with tobacco.
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