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Diabetes Developments - A blog on latest developments in diabetes by David Mendosa

Killing T Cells to Cure Diabetes

December 21st, 2008 · 12 Comments

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Dr. Richard K. Bernstein knows how to cure diabetes, and researchers are ready to start the research. All they need is money. Does anyone have enough money and care enough about curing diabetes to fund this research? Do you?

Even if you have type 1 diabetes, you almost certainly still have some of your beta cells. If your body stops killing them, they will replicate and produce insulin — and then you will possibly have a cure.

When I talked with Dr. Bernstein a few days ago, he told me that he knows how kill the specific killer T cells. Most famous as the leading proponent of a very low-carb diet, Dr. Bernstein is a diabetologist with a practice near New York City. He was also an engineer before he got in M.D. degree in his 40s.

The problem is that diabetes is an auto-immune disease. Our own immune system kills our beta cells. And it’s not just type 1 that is an auto-immune disease.

“We have a lot of evidence that both type 1 and type 2 diabetes are autoimmune disorders,” Dr. Bernstein told me. “And even aged type 1s upon autopsy are found to have some surviving beta cells that are capable of replication.”

Our beta cells would replicate if we could kill the agents of our immune systems called “killer T cells.” Many researchers are hard at work trying to figure out how to destroy them in hopes that they can thereby cure diabetes. Most well known is Denise Faustman, associate professor of medicine at Harvard University.

“She is assuming that a fairly broad class of killer t cells — called CD8 — includes the culprit killer t cell that is responsible for diabetes,” Dr. Bernstein says. “She says in effect that if you wipe out all the CD8 cells, you’ll catch the killer t cells responsible for diabetes.”

But Dr. Faustman’s approach is fraught with danger. “One problem with her technique of going after the whole category of killer t cells is that you render the patient immuno-incompetent,” he says. “You are doing too much damage — you are not doing focused damage.”

I suggest that Dr. Faustman’s technique would leave us susceptible to all sorts of infections. “Right,” Dr. Bernstein replied. “And cancers.”

Dr. Bernstein is sure that a more targeted approach would cure diabetes without leaving our bodies at greater risk of infections and cancers. About five years ago Professor Itamar Raz, who heads the diabetes unit of Israel’s Hadassah University Hospital., cornered Dr. Bernstein.

They were at an informal dinner of a group of diabetologists. Dr. Raz told Dr. Bernstein that the only people who could give them any ideas were engineers. “He said, ‘So maybe you can think about a cure for diabetes.’”

“I said, OK,” Dr. Bernstein recalled. “It took me two days to come up with an idea.”

His idea is a method for finding the killer t cells for type 1 diabetes, those for type 2, determining if they are the same or different, and if there are several types. “I have a method for finding out that’s very simple, very straightforward,” he told me. Then, when they find the appropriate killer t cells, they can either make an antibody against them or take a unique protein from them and vaccinate the people with it, just like with other diseases.

But he doesn’t want me to publicize the exact method, because then no drug company would be interested in it, since they couldn’t patent it. “It would just languish forever.”

So Dr. Bernstein needed to find an immunologist who knew how to carry out the protocol that he worked out. He asked around and “all the fingers pointed at” Nora Sarvetnick, Ph.D., who is now a professor at the University of Nebraska Medical School.

“So I call this lady up and introduce myself,” Dr. Bernstein recalls. “I cover the idea, and she says, ‘Oh, my God! I have to have this project! That’s really the way to it it, and I know exactly what to do to find those killer t cells. I don’t know why I never thought of it or no one else ever thought of it.’”

But she needed money. Maybe half a million dollars. Lately they haven’t been in touch, because Dr. Bernstein says that he doesn’t know how to raise money.

“I don’t like the idea of raising money for profit, because then you have to set up a corporation,” he says. “And then who’s going to be responsible for running the business? That I don’t need.”

Now he is looking for investors. “If a venture capital firm came along that had a lot of money and was well regarded or alternatively a major donor, I would consider turning it over to them and letting them make a business out of it. But ideally I would want to treat this as a charity and give her institution the money earmarked for her, and let it roll.”

Here is where Dr. Bernstein’s idea stands now. “I have the only idea for a cure for diabetes that is viable. Everything else that’s going on is an utter waste of money. All of these islet cell transplants will be destroyed by the immune system as soon as they are transplanted.”

Dr. Bernstein ended our interview with this lament. “Here I am getting pretty on in years and sitting on a time-bomb that no one is interested in.”

So far.

This is a mirror of one of my articles that Health Central published. You can navigate to that site to find my most recent articles.

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Posted in: Diabetes Basics

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12 responses so far ↓

  • 1 nancy // Feb 6, 2009 at 9:31 am

    In 2001, I became a proponent of the ‘low-carb’ lifestyle, then i read Dr. Bernstein’s book. I felt better immediately (I had busted my $%^ for 20yrs trying to follow the Diabetic Associations dietary recommendations, which included way too much bread/grains). I continue to this day, and do not eat bread, pasta, rice (brown only once in a while) or white potatoes, as they convert to simple sugars too easily, and give a rush, then a crash. Not to mention what this kind of diet does with candida overgrowth–even if it’s whole grains, the candida still is getting fed….Dr. Bernstein’s idea is wonderful, but I’m not surprised that he has no funding….his idea just makes too much sense in this crazy world.

  • 2 David Mendosa // Feb 6, 2009 at 10:28 am

    Dear Nancy,

    Sad but true. Thanks for writing and keep on our very low-carb solution to our diabetes problems!

    Best regards,

    David

  • 3 Karen // Feb 15, 2009 at 6:54 pm

    I want to help by donating to Dr. Bernstein’s research. Just tell me where I can send my donation. I do not have $500,000 but I want to help. If we (people with type 1 and hopefully type 2) all join together and give, it can happen. Dr. Bernstein’s Diabetes Solution book was such a blessing for me, being a newly diagnosis type 1 back in 2007. Please tell Dr. Bernstein, there are people who are interested, and if he can set up a bank account where donations can be sent.

    Sincerely,

    Karen

  • 4 lauraw // Feb 16, 2009 at 7:59 am

    I read your article on Dr. Bernstein’s theory on curing T1 diabetes through T cell destruction. You mention that he needs $500,000.00 to fund a study. This is a relatively small sum of money relative to other research studies underway. Will not the ADA or JDF fund this. Bernstein is a reputable authority. If funds are not forthcoming, I am sure that capital can be raised for this in a short period of time. Please email me if you are aware what funding would be required to move this through human trials. Thank you.

  • 5 rebecca lawlor // Jul 24, 2009 at 11:33 am

    i am extremely interested in reading further applicable written material as my son-in-law has had insulin-dependent diabetes since he was 1 year of age!!! I have been following dr. denise faustman’s researh closely; saw dr. bernstein’s article and it really spikes my interest!!!

  • 6 Karen Simmons // Dec 5, 2009 at 10:33 am

    David 1/2 a million dollars is not hard to raise on the web if you have a prominent name like Dr. B. I do not understand why Dr. B can not raise this small sum with his famous name and creating a non-profit whose goal was to “cure diabetes”. I mean the very by line would get people on the band wagon…another simple book on the management of pre-diabetes and preventing it would do it. Just market it on the web and the product would probably make the numbers in less than six months…

    Why would Dr. B not be willing to create a non-profit, or someone else he works with in his practice (like the person who will inherit his work when he passes).

    I am amazed at this attitude…it just seems like its not important enough. If I had his degree and influence and knowledge you can bet that I would do it…regardless of my age. He is the JK Rowling of diabetes, do you think she would have trouble raising 1/2 mil for charity?

  • 7 David Mendosa // Dec 5, 2009 at 1:56 pm

    Dear Karen,

    I appreciate your point. But Dr. Bernstein thinks that he should concentrate on doing what he has done best for half a century — saving the lives of his patients. He is great, but he can’t do everything.

    Best regards,

    David

  • 8 Ridolph // Nov 12, 2012 at 8:45 pm

    Is this still the case, 3 years later?

  • 9 David Mendosa // Nov 13, 2012 at 10:46 am

    Dear Ridolph,

    Unfortunately, this situation hasn’t moved forward at all.

    Namaste,

    David

  • 10 Paul // Mar 3, 2014 at 6:39 pm

    A non-profit corporation could be formed, and donations could be solicited via KickStarter or a similar venue. This type of thing is becoming commonplace. Raising this amount of revenue isn’t out of line with other projects I’ve seen. There’s no reason NOT to explore this. I volunteer my efforts in any way that may be of value. I have a wife and a daughter each suffering from type I diabetes, so I’ve got considerable “skin in the game”. There’s almost nothing I’d be willing to do to help.

  • 11 Paul // Mar 3, 2014 at 6:41 pm

    There’s almost nothing I wouldn’t be willing to do to help.

  • 12 David Mendosa // Mar 4, 2014 at 9:44 am

    Dear Paul,

    What wonderful support! I’ll pass it on to Dr. Bernstein.

    Namaste,

    David

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