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11-year-old Louis Cocco’s head was barely visible above the podium as he addressed an attentive group in a conference room at the Cannon House Office Building in Washington, D.C. this past April. Louis, who has Type 1 diabetes, rattled off the statistics about the health and financial impacts of the disease like a public-speaking veteran. Then, at the end of his talk, he turned towards Dr. Claresa Levetan, his endocrinologist and the organizer of the meeting, and said, “I know this group of doctors will get me off insulin before I am a grownup.”
If you are unfamiliar with Levetan’s track record, you might condemn her for offering Louis false hope, but she is not some quack selling diabetes snake oil. Levetan is a Fellow With Distinction of the American College of Endocrinology, whose pioneering work has received many accolades. She has received the prestigious Roche Diagnosed award for innovative diabetes research and has been an invited visiting scholar at Harvard University’s Joslin Diabetes Center. Dr. Irl Hirsch, editor-in-chief of the ADA journal Clinical Diabetes has called her “perhaps the most creative physician I have ever met.”
Her latest endeavor is a company called Perle Bioscience www.PerleBioscience.com, and her promise to Louis is founded on developments in its labs. Levetan hypothesizes that a cure for diabetes, Type 1 or Type 2, can be achieved by our ability to regenerate islets inside ourselves, using our own tissue, and combining regeneration with immune suppression. She sees diabetes remission as a 2-part, intertwined process wherein the body grows healthy new islets and also suppresses immune system attacks. A combination therapy like this has not been attempted in treating diabetes, but it will be soon. Human trials will begin in both the United States and Europe later this year.