Research and Impact | News and Announcements

Heritage College researcher receives funding to explore potential treatment for Type 1 diabetes

Craig Nunemaker, Ph.D., associate professor, Osteopathic Heritage Foundation Ralph S. Licklider, D.O., Endowed Faculty Fellow in Diabetes and Islet Biology, and principal investigator of the Nunemaker Lab at the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine, received funding to research a dual-acting molecule with potential to treat type 1 diabetes (T1D). 

This $269,103 grant comes from the National Institutes of Health as a subaward received through ASAKE Biotechnology, LLC.  With this funding, Nunemaker and co-investigators Stephen Bergmeier, Ph.D., professor and chair of Ohio University’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and Shiyong Wu, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and president and CEO of ASAKE Biotechnology, will study the nature of the molecules of interest in hopes of creating a potential T1D treatment for future clinical trials.

T1D is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system mistakenly destroys insulin-producing cells. Insulin is a vital hormone that helps regulate the body’s blood sugar. Without it, major health complications will arise that can lead to death if untreated.

“Right now, we have a bunch of different molecule compounds, some of which do this really amazing job at helping out the insulin producing cells in your body do a better job, while also evading destruction caused by your own body's immune system,” said Nunemaker.

The specific molecules under study have the potential to treat T1D by preventing the immune system from inhibiting the body’s insulin production. There is evidence that these molecules act directly on the insulin-producing cells to protect them from the chemical messengers the immune system uses to attack them. Moreover, each surviving cell is also able to produce 2-3 times as much insulin to make up for much of the insulin production that is lost. However, the exact function of these molecules has yet to be determined. Uncovering how these molecules work is the key to Nunemaker’s current research.

“I have these small molecules that do some pretty miraculous things,” said Nunemaker.  “We don't exactly know what they do, we just know that they work. So, that's really the part and parcel of what we're trying to do.”

As of now, the only reliable treatment for T1D is insulin injection, but Nunemaker’s research could lead to other options. This line of study is still in its beginning stages, however Nunemaker feels the outcomes are promising. Recent studies in diabetic mice have shown that daily treatment with these molecules can bring blood sugar back down to a normal range, increase insulin levels and substantially reduce the signs of immune activity in the pancreas.

"Although some promising therapies related to T1D have been recently approved by the F.D.A., there are currently no therapeutic approaches that can reverse the disease after diagnosis with hyperglycemia," said Nunemaker. “But we honestly think that we have something that might be able to reverse the disease." 

October 4, 2023
Staff reports