Could a probiotic pill cure diabetes?

Readers may have seen news stories recently reporting that a new probiotic pill could cure both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. These stories focused on a study from Cornell University in the United States and published in the journal Diabetes. But what were the research findings?

The researchers engineered a common strain of a “friendly” Lactobacillus human gut bacteria or probiotic to secrete a glucagon-like peptide (GLP-1). GLP-1 is a hormone that releases insulin and blocks the release of glucagon from the pancreas so helping to reduce blood glucose levels.

This was a study in diabetic rats and each day for 90 days, the rats received an oral dose of the probiotic. They monitored its effects on blood glucose levels comparing the outcomes with diabetic rats that did not receive it. At the end of the 90 days, the researchers found the rats that received the modified probiotic had blood glucose levels up to 30 per cent lower than those rats that did not receive the probiotic. The time to reduce blood glucose levels following a meal was the same as in normal healthy rats.

The modified probiotic re-programmed the rats’ upper intestinal epithelial cells causing them to become insulin-producing cells. These re-programmed cells released up to one-third of the insulin produced by rats without diabetes helping the rats to manage their blood glucose levels.

Although this research is interesting, it does not provide evidence that this modified probiotic could cure type and type 2 diabetes in humans. Much more research in animals and clinical trials in humans will be needed before it is known if this treatment could help to manage diabetes. Also of note is that the probiotic used in the study was different to the probiotic products already widely available as the study preparation was genetically engineered.

In addition, in people with type 1 diabetes, insulin-producing cells in the pancreas are targeted and destroyed by an immune attack. If this modified probiotic approach was used to engineer new insulin producing gastrointestinal cells in people with type 1 diabetes, these cells could also be targeted by the immune system. Overall it is far too early to say what, if any, the benefits of this research might be for patients with diabetes.


Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, Could a probiotic pill cure diabetes?;Online:DOI:10.1211/PJ.2015.20068036

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