For the first time in my career as a journalist, I’m writing about people who have achieved something great. I write these magical words with responsibility and professional pride. Belarusian doctors and scientists have changed the lives
of many people, creating a cure for the ‘sweet disease’ of diabetes
16 year old Anya has been suffering from a severe form of diabetes for several years; she is one of almost 136,000 such people in Belarus, of whom, around 70,000 are insulin-dependent. Every day, she must inject insulin to regulate her blood-sugar levels.
Doctors all over the globe have been trying to find ways of easing life for diabetes sufferers and Prof. Alexander Shott may have made a breakthrough. For the past 25 years, his team has been working to find an alternative to injections. Scientific researchers and surgeons have been involved in developing a new method. Years of meticulous theoretical work and complex experiments have turned a scientific idea into a new method of treatment. Belarusian scientists and doctors Anatoly Leontyuk, Stanislav Tretyak, Alexander Prokhorov, Valery Romanovich, Vasily Rudenok and Vitaly Goranov have now been given the State Award of Belarus for their efforts. Today, Anya and other patients have acquired hope and the chance of leading a more normal life, without daily insulin injections, drugs and strict diets.
Anya, and others like her, are already benefitting from the unique new treatment, with improved quality of life. After operations diabetic comas and insulin-dependence are a thing of the past for them as they move into a new stage of health. In layman’s terms, Prof. Anatoly Leontyuk tells us, “Those suffering from diabetes are given transplanted islet cells from the pancreatic glands of rabbits and pigs, which can produce insulin. Usually, tissue taken from one organism and transplanted into another is rejected and destroyed. To avoid this, we need to transplant into the cavity of a blood vessel. During the operation, the transplanted cells are placed into a porous synthetic tubule, which is then placed in the blood vessel. The ‘transplanted’ material supports the patient’s own pancreatic gland. Sometimes, patients no longer need insulin injections at all; where they do, the dose can be reduced three fold. ”
In fact, the operation is quite simple, involving little trauma, so many blood vessel surgeons should be able to learn to perform it. The number of those suffering from diabetes increases by 4 percent each year and all these patients need our help.
The new method is unusual in only requiring patients to stay in hospital for a short period. They can independently get out of bed and move around within a few days and feel more cheerful immediately, relieved from their symptoms of persistent thirst and weight gain. Their quality of life is enhanced dramatically and they can forget their fear of diabetic coma. Their anxiety over the disease, which can lead to death, is released. Isn’t it wonderful?
Early on, Mr. Leontyuk used not only rabbits but more exotic animals in his studies. In early 1960s, on visiting a museum of fish, dolphins and whales in Kaliningrad, he saw whale embryos in test tubes. He asked for three of them and brought these to Minsk. “I’ve used whales in my scientific research of comparative embryology. They are a special and mysterious type of mammal, like human beings,” recollects Prof. Leontyuk. “Of course, whales live in water and can submerge deeply, going where even the most contemporary submarines cannot. They ‘speak’ to each other by sending sounds over great distances, beyond the powers of submarines’ technical equipment. I’ve tried to understand their mysteries, with whale hunters bringing me the embryos of sperm whales, fin whales and, even, rare blue whales. I had to work hard with these materials”
He now has a rare embryological collection of whales, allowing scientific study in Minsk. Since whale hunting has been banned all over the globe, it’s now almost impossible to gather such material to create a similar collection. Embryological collections worldwide are a national heritage and Prof. Leontyuk’s is worthy of high status.
Whale investigations have helped doctors to cure human illnesses and work is ongoing.
According to Prof. Vyacheslav Tretyak, scientists have succeeded in developing their cure for diabetes primarily due to having a unique team of like-minded people. Prof. Leontyuk is a European level morphologist, having found answers to how cells work and discovering where abnormalities lie. He is a pioneer in his field, even worldwide.
Alexander Prokhorov, a Doctor of Medical Sciences, has been examining patients, selecting people for future operations, while also observing post-surgery results. Valery Romanovich — a brilliant surgeon — performed the first operations after having practised on animals. Professor and morphologist Vasily Rudenok conducted investigations in Germany using the latest technologies, while investigating cells’ ability to produce insulin. Vitaly Goranov is passionately engaged in improving cell structures.
However, it takes more than scientific enthusiasm to find cures. High intellect and dedication are needed to produce brilliant results. Scientists note that the state has given then steady support, with the Science and Technology Committee allocating considerable funds to implement the project. The Health Ministry’s Scientific Department and the Health Minister himself have championed the cause for some time.
The scientists aren’t calling their work a miracle, although it’s unique in many respects. They understand that the technology is far from a panacea and, like any other treatment, has side-effects. However, the benefits are undeniable. Moreover, the operation is conducted free of charge in our country (while costing at least $70,000 in the USA).
Specialists in Europe, the USA and Canada are keen to learn more about the work of our Belarusian doctors. The method is constantly developing, with animal testing of transplanted thyroid gland cells almost complete and similar transplants into people proving a success. Endocrinologists believe that these surgeries will help patients whose thyroid has been removed, relieving them of taking hormonal medicines for the rest of their lives. Doctors plan to transplant parathyroid gland cells in future. When the thyroid gland is removed, people are unable to metabolise minerals and calcium, causing convulsions. Scientists also plan to grow nerve cells and transplant them into patients suffering from disseminated sclerosis.
How does Prof. Leontyuk feel about his success so far? He responds like a true doctor, “Scientific ideas are born to relieve the sufferings of patients. Our idea and its embodiment have alleviated these sufferings.”
By Lyudmila Leonenko
Cure for ‘sweet disease’
[b]For the first time in my career as a journalist, I’m writing about people who have achieved something great. I write these magical words with responsibility and professional pride. Belarusian doctors and scientists have changed the lives [/b]of many people, creating a cure for the ‘sweet disease’ of diabetes16 year old Anya has been suffering from a severe form of diabetes for several years; she is one of almost 136,000 such people in Belarus, of whom, around 70,000 are insulin-dependent. Every day, she must inject insulin to regulate her blood-sugar levels.