Researchers focus on canine diabetes in hopes of helping dogs, people

October 17, 2018

University of Florida veterinary scientist receives NIH grant; Purdue-Indiana team explores role for collagen.

Purdue researchers in collaboration with Indiana University successfully injected a collagen solution mixed with pancreatic cells into diabetes-induced mice, achieving normal glucose levels for at least 90 days. (Image courtesy of Clarissa Hernandez Stephens/Purdue University)

Canine diabetes research has been in the news lately, with veterinary medical investigators at multiple institutions looking for answers to questions about the disease in both dogs and humans.

Dr. Allison O'Kell with her two dogs. (Photo courtesy of the University of Florida)At the University of Florida, Allison O'Kell, DVM, MS, DACVIM, an assistant professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine, has received an award from the National Institutes of Health in support of her studies relating to canine diabetes, according to a UF release.

“The overall goal of my research is to study the causes of diabetes in the dog,” Dr. O'Kell says in the release. “We hope that the work will benefit dogs with this disease, but also help us better understand whether studying the disease in dogs may be a novel way to understand the disease in humans.”

All of Dr. O'Kell's research involves naturally occurring diabetes in pet dogs that live in the community. She'll be studying these dogs to better define the function of the pancreas over time, investigating metabolic blood markers, and examining the role of immune system dysfunction in the disease. To accomplish these goals, Dr. O'Kell is recruiting diabetic dogs as well as healthy control dogs for several different study components. For more information, visit the study website.

Meanwhile, veterinary researchers at Purdue and Indiana universities are asking if it's possible to manage type 1 diabetes not with daily insulin injections or pumps but a shot every few months.

The idea, according to a release from Purdue, is to usher in healthy pancreatic cells using a Trojan horse modality-the horse being, in this case, collagen. Researchers at Purdue, in collaboration with a team from Indiana University, have developed a collagen formulation mixed with pancreatic cells that's been shown in a preclinical rodent study to reverse type 1 diabetes within 24 hours and maintain insulin independence for at least 90 days.

For diabetic pets, the next step is a pilot clinical study in dogs with naturally occurring type 1 diabetes, which will be conducted in collaboration with Purdue's College of Veterinary Medicine.

“We plan to account for differences from mouse to human by helping dogs first. This way, the dogs can inform us on how well the treatment might work in humans,” says Clarissa Hernandez Stephens, first author on the work and a graduate researcher in Purdue's school of engineering. Findings appear in early view for an upcoming issue of the American Journal of Physiology: Endocrinology and Metabolism.

Type 1 diabetes affects about one in every 100 companion animals in the U.S. and approximately 1.25 million American children and adults, the Purdue release states. Because diabetes happens similarly in dogs and humans, both species could potentially benefit from the same cure: a new set of pancreatic cells to replace those that aren't releasing insulin.

Twenty years of research hasn't produced an effective transplantation therapy because multiple donors are needed, the current method of delivering cells through the portal vein of the liver is too invasive, and the human immune system tends to destroy a large percentage of transplanted cells, the release states.

Purdue researchers simply changed how the cells were packaged-first, within a solution containing collagen, and second, as an injection through the skin instead of all the way at the liver, saving patients from a nasty procedure.

In the research team's approach, healthy pancreas cells are mixed with a collagen solution. Upon injection just under the skin, the solution solidifies, and the body recognizes the collagen and supplies it with blood flow to exchange insulin and glucose.

"With giving my dog shots twice a day, I have to constantly be thinking about where I am and when I need to be home. It greatly affects my work and my personal life," says Jan Goetz, owner of a diabetic dog named Lexi. "Not having to give these shots would mean freedom." (Photo courtesy of Purdue University)