Defeating Diabetes? Gene Therapy Cures Type I Diabetes in Dogs

Dr. Ernie Ward discusses some ground breaking diabetes research and its implications for diabetic dogs throughout the world. For more from Dr. Ward, find him at and like him on Facebook!

One day, we may look back at insulin injections to treat diabetes as primitive as drilling holes in heads to cure headaches. Exciting research recently published proved that gene transfer therapy successfully cured type 1 diabetes in dogs. If this technology works as well in humans, we may be approaching a time when we’ll be able to throw away insulin syringes for good. The great news for dog owners is that this research will ultimately help our canine companions. For humans, these findings accelerate the possibility of a profound change in the way type 1 diabetes willbe treated in the future.

The groundbreaking research was conducted at Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB). In simplest terms, the scientists injected the diabetic dogs with gene therapy vectors in a single intramuscular injection. Fast forward four years and the dogs have remained cured without problems. One injection and done. Previous experiments in diabetic mice had proven this therapy could work, but tests in bigger animals had not been conducted. Dogs tend to develop type 1 diabetes so they were a logical larger species to target. In contrast, the more common type 2 diabetes affects cats and human adults. The successful gene transfer resulted in the expression of the insulin and glucokinase genes in affected dogs. The combination of these two genes allowed the diabetic dogs to properly monitor blood sugar levels and prevent excessive blood sugar levels from occurring. That seemed to be the special sauce for success. Either gene alone failed to cure diabetes. Even better, the treated dogs never experienced episodes of life-threatening blood sugar, a common side effect of traditional insulin injections. Eating, fasting, and exercise didn’t alter treated dogs ability to regulate their blood sugar. So far none of the dogs have developed any of the common complications associated with type 1 diabetes. They appear normal in every way. For a practicing veterinarian, this is nothing short of miraculous.1 

The astonishing news for me as an animal doctor is that a cure to this dreaded disease in my canine patients may happen during my career. For parents of children with type 1 diabetes, this may lead to the elimination of insulin needles and pumps, constant blood monitoring, and ultimately longer life expectancies and improved quality of life. This high-tech gene transfer therapy appears to eliminate type 1 diabetes as opposed to simply treating it. This is truly an incredibly thrilling development for the estimated 3 million Americans suffering from this previously incurable disease. While human and dog treatments are years away from clinical usage, I advise everyone to closely monitor this area of research. The American Diabetes Association has done an excellent job in getting this news to American human audiences. My hope is that a veterinary pharmaceutical company will see this research and begin development of a clinical treatment for dogs in the near future. Until then, stay tuned! The era of gene therapy is just beginning.

1. See the research abstract at

If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian – they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.


Reviewed on: 
Monday, August 3, 2015