Insulin gene therapy for the treatment of diabetes mellitus

  • Catherine Stewart

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Currently available treatments for insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus are often inadequate in terms of both efficacy and patient compliance. Gene therapy offers the possibility of a novel and improved method by which exogenous insulin can be delivered to a patient. This was approached in the present study by constructing a novel insulin-secreting cell line. For the purposes of this work immortalized cell lines were used. Fibroblasts and pituitary cells were transfected with the human preproisinulin gene to create stable lines of proinsulin- and insulin-secreting cells. The effect of known β-cell secretagogues on these cells were investigated, and found mostly to have no stimulatory effect, although IBMX, arginine and ZnSO4 each increased the rate of secretion.
Cyclosporin (CyA) is currently the immunosuppresant of choice for transplant recipients; the effect of this treatment on endogenous β-cell function was assessed both in vivo and in vitro. Therapeutic doses of CyA were found to reduce plasma insulin concentrations and to impair glucose tolerance. The effect of immunoisolation on insulin release by HIT T15 cells was also investigated. The presence of an alginate membrane was found to severely impair insulin release.
For the first implantation of the insulin-secreting cells, the animal model selected was the athymic nude mouse. This animal is immunoincompetent, and hence the use of an immunosuppressive regimen is circumvented. Graft function was assessed by measurement of plasma human C peptide concentrations, using a highly specific assay. Intraperitoneal implantation of genetically manipulated insulin-secreting pituitary cells into nude mice subsequently treated with a large dose of streptozotocin (STZ) resulted in a significantly delayed onset of hyperglycaemia when compared to control animals. Consumption of a ZnSO4 solution was shown to increase human C peptide release by the implant. Ensuing studies in nude mice examined the efficacy of different implantation sites, and included histochemical examination of the tumours. Aldehyde fuchsin staining and immunocytochemical processing demonstrated the presence of insulin containing cells within the excised tissue.
Following initial investigations in nude mice, implantation studies were performed in CyA-immunosuppressed normal and STZ-diabetic mice. Graft function was found to be less efficacious, possibly due to the subcutaneous implantation site, or to the immunosuppresive regimen. Histochemical and transmission electron microscopic analysis of the tumour-like cell clusters found at autopsy revealed necrosis of cells at the core, but essentially normal cell morphology, with dense secretory granules in peripheral cells. The thesis provides evidence that gene therapy offers a feasibly new approach to insulin delivery.
Date of AwardMar 1993
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorClifford Bailey (Supervisor)


  • Insulin release
  • nude mice
  • human proinsulin C peptide
  • cyclosporin

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