A ‘cure’ for type 1 diabetes? Dr Eli Lewis on holy grail trail


Prof Eli Lewis

(EDITOR’S NOTE: For parents of children newly diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, Prof Lewis does not see patients individually. He suggests that parents show this link to the doctor treating their child: http://www.lewislab.net/Teaching/InquiriesAAT.html if the doctor is willing and can access the medication, the child can receive the treatment.)

DIABETES is not always the chronic progressive condition most doctors and dietitians believe it to be. Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes are shown to improve with diet. Now Israeli biochemistry and pharmacology professor Dr Eli Lewis could be changing the landscape even further for type 1 diabetics.

Here’s the background to his research on a new compound to treat the condition. It could be as close to a ‘cure’ as modern medicine is able to come. This is an update on a Q&A I had with him earlier this year. 

By Marika Sboros

Dr Eli Lewis, professor of clinical biochemistry and pharmacology at Ben Gurion University of the Negev in Israel, just may have stumbled across one of modern medicine’s most enduring holy grails: a way to reverse type 1 diabetes safely and effectively. Better still, he says, the natural compound he uses to treat the condition has no negative side effects at the dose and duration he uses in his research.

Lewis’s research is on tissue damage that plays a role in type 1 diabetes. He says scientists have often overlooked and understudied this area. He came across it when he began researching the role of inflammation in injured islets back in 2003.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: For parents of children newly diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, Prof Lewis does not see patients individually. He suggests that parents show this link to the doctor treating their child: http://www.lewislab.net/Teaching/InquiriesAAT.html if the doctor is willing and can access the medication, the child can receive the treatment.)

Those islets are the tiny clusters of insulin-producing cells in the pancreas His research also covers the effects of transfusions of an anti-inflammatory drug based on a protein the body produces naturally all the time, known as Alpha 1 Antitrypsin (AAT, or alpha1).

AAT has been used mostly only to treat emphysema. Lewis’s breakthrough research shows the protein’s promise via transfusion in reducing insulin dependence in type 1 diabetics, and in some cases actually reversing the condition completely, if caught early enough. He believes it may even help type 2 diabetes, again if the disease is caught early enough, and supported with lifestyle change, including keeping carbohydrates low. He says that’s common sense for diabetics whether type 1 or 2.

Click here to read: Diabetes can be cured! A doctor’s personal story 

Lewis says AAT is a form of “immuno-modulation’” with applications that go beyond diabetes.  US researchers are currently studying it for inflammatory bowel disease in patients; US researchers in a Seattle trial say it can make the bone-marrow transplant prognosis “phenomenal. AAT is also being tested in patients with ischemic heart disease for diminished cardiac scar size multiple sclerosis (MS).

Other diseases in the pipeline for testing include lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, transplants of all kinds and even pig-to-human grafting experiments that desperately need a safe therapeutic to accommodate the grafts.

Lewis and his team in Israel are focused on the immune assault on cells, which means they are limited in funding and scope. He is reaching out to collaborate with any group worldwide, “as long as it is as enthusiastic as we are”. Here, in a Q&A with me, Lewis explains how the AAT therapy works for type 1 diabetes:

First of all Dr Lewis, what’s a clinical islet?

Islets are these little tiny spheres you have in your pancreas that is making insulin. A clinical islet is what you end up with when you have to name your laboratory in some way that’s relevant to your work. I try to combine everything to we do into one title.

I presume you’re talking about the islets of Langerhans that I learned about in biology at school?

Yes, precisely. Those are the ones. Every person has in his or her pancreas one million of these spheres, one million islets. In them, most of the cells are beta cells that make insulin. It’s the only hormone that is able to lower glucose in the blood, the only cells that make it, and it’s the only location where they are placed. So it’s a very dangerous situation when you consider that if you lose the beta cells for any reason, glucose will rise in the blood. It will just rise in the blood, that’s how it goes, no way to pull it down, there’s no other hormone.

You are referring here to type 1 diabetes?

Yes. It’s more precise to call type 1 diabetes type 1 autoimmune diabetes. It is an autoimmune condition. You literally see in the blood circulating antibodies against the islets, against insulin.  It used to be called juvenile diabetes but today we also see it in adults.

What’s the trigger?

Ther can be many triggers. We still don’t know what no longer what instigates the actual condition, but it’s no longer reserved only for kids.

Type 1 diabetes is usually defined as a condition in which the pancreas does not make any insulin at all. Is that correct?

That’s what we call the end point of the disease, the point where the disease is called end-stage, as if there is no next step for it. You basically lose a mass of viable cells. Conventional treatment is insulin. It’s basically that component that’s missing in the blood circulating. The therapy is roughly 100 years old. There are different ways of introduction

The therapy is roughly 100 years old. Advances in technology provide different ways of introduction but it is still basically insulin. It is very difficult for doctors and patients to know manually how much insulin they need at any given moment.

What scientists haven’t addressed today is the cells that have expired with the actual disease, the death of the islets or their absence or function. Those are things I’m trying to alter.

You are using  Alpha-1 antitrypsin (A1AT, aka AAT or alpha 1) for that. It it a drug? In your research you say it’s natural compound that occurs in the body?

Precisely. It’s a molecule, a protein. We all maks this protein.

And people with Type 1 diabetes?

Actually yes, they also make it, but there’s a point which I’ll get back to. We all make AAT in the bloodstream all the time. When we are sick, we make more of it. What do I mean by “sick”? Well, if you have flu, an infection, you feel horrible, inflamed, and the body makes more AAT in the blood. We’ve known about that for decades. Scientists have measure it. Doctors have used that level of higher AAT as if it were a marker of whether or not there was an actual infection or disease.

But if you study AAT deeply enough as I have done for past 10 years, it turns out it actually has a function. The body doesn’t just release it and increase the levels when we are sick. It does so on purpose appropriately so.

It’s one of a series of molecules we use to protect our tissues. Why do we need to protect our tissue when we are sick? Because of the drastic involvement of the immune system in correcting an infection, in clearing or decontaminating it. Our cells are very sensitive. The immune system has to use that platform of innocent, sensitive tissue to destroy bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites, cancer cells, dead tissue

Meanwhile, the tissue suffers. It’s not the best way to go through illness.

At the point when AAT rises in the blood, it circulates in the body systemically. It reaches everywhere. Some tissues – like the lungs and gut – make the molecule for their own sake. It helps to facilitate closing these micro wounds. It speeds up the wound healing process. The molecule is also anti-inflammatory, so it downplays inflammation.

And when you are sick, your body enjoys this extra protection around the areas that are experiencing the immune event.

So what can it do for people with type 1 diabetes?

AAT has a very close relationship with diabetes. It turns out that circulating glucose levels, when they are high, actually stick to proteins. You may know about the measurement HbA1C –  Hb for haemoglobin, A for adult, and 1C means it is coated with glucose. It’s actually stuck to glucose.

In both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, everything in the blood gets coated with glucose. When that happens, even albumen gets coated with glucose, everything you put in a glassful of glucose over time will be coated. You don’t need enzymes to do that.

For AAT, this means it becomes inactivated. It has been shown for the past almost 20 years, that what levels of AAT the body makes becomes inactivated in diabetics; it’s not functioning.

In the clinical trials we have been running to see if AAT infusion could alter the disease, the first thing we found (with patients) was when they came in, they had an inactive form of AAT.

What form of AAT do you use for type 1 diabetics via transfusion?

It is purified from plasma. So we are basically introducing the native molecule that is in the plasma. Companies that work with blood products share 50 000 litres of plasma globally. (I learnt this recently). They extract human albumen, human antibodies for medical purposes, and AAT enjoys this extraction. It is purified and bottled up, and the reason they do that has nothing to do with diabetes.

We came very late with the concept of AAT for type 1 diabetes, before we knew about the advance (for its use) in another disease, A1AT deficiency. Medical textbooks will have half a page on it. Mostly it shows that if you have less than normal AAT genetically, it turns out that it is slightly mutated. Instead of being produced and released into the blood, it is just produced and stuck in the cells.

For those individuals, nothing changes much until they develop lung emphysema – the breakdown of the lung walls. Also, they endure more inflammatory bouts, vasculitis (inflammation of blood vessels)  from having lower levels of AAT.

So AAT can be used to treat emphysema effectively?

At present, that’s almost the only indication. But we feel lucky because for the past 30 years it has been bottled up on the shelf exactly for this rare condition – around one in 10 000 individuals roughly will be diagnosed with A1AT deficiency. They are eligible for AAT infusions

It’s wonderful, when you consider that we have a drug or regimen to give to people, including children, maybe for life. Ten years ago we decided to adhere completely to testing on safety and feasibility on a drug already identified  as usable and clinically safe.

How long would it take to reverse type 1 diabetes using this drug?

We have a lot more experience now than before. At the time we started testing AAT infusions in patients, it took a long while to identify the window of opportunity.  In pre-clinical studies, in the early years of intensive experiments in animal studies, we discovered that it takes a few weeks at least for the immune system to alter for the better. It can’t happen overnight, or a week or two. It needs four weeks – at least in mice and rat models.

Will you be doing human trials soon?

Oh yes, the next trial is running already – one at Ben Gurion University, two others currently recruiting in the States; we have several teams in multi-centre working on it.

This is really revolutionary! Is your hypothesis that this will be a long-term cure or you don’t know that at this stage?

We don’t know exactly. The longest we have followed a patient that has been treated for a while with AAT is eight years. That was in a child who was on AAT for eight weeks and still has no need for insulin. He is still making his own after eight weeks of infusions.

But that said, we still have to find the best window opportunity for each patient. We think it is very close time of diagnosis, so that really doesn’t help those who are years down the line with the disease.

Clinical trials of this kind often recruit individuals soon after diagnosis, as that it the dynamic point of the disease. One clinical study of 59 patients showed that all started to make their own insulin after receiving 37 weeks of AAT, so it could be that the longer the better. But we never knew at the time, so we could afford to try it for a few weeks and then stop.

But also, every type 1 diabetic is slightly different. It depends on at what age the patient is daignosed the age of onset, the patient’s background, level of antibodies, other diseases that may be present. So we don’t think this will be a uniform, mass treatment. Type 1 diabetes is a disease that deserves to be individualised.

Yes, personalised medicine is proving to be the way to go, and also I presume, supported by lifestyle change?

That is always in the background. I tell parents all the time that they have actually have a lot more information that all the medical groups put together. When parents have a child who is type 1 diabetic and the years go by, they individually calibrate what ’s good and not good, what aggravates the condition, what fits well. Parents and children know best.

There are no two children who get the same diet. And the longer the parents follow what works, the better they fit the diet to their children. And when the kids grow up they follow this on their own. They are very responsible individuals, very aware of themselves.

What about the role of carbohydrate in the diet for diabetics?

In diabetes, the pancreas in this disease is suffering an attack, an assault, The pancreas is injured. High levels of glucose destroy these spherical entities, the islets. They are sensitive in ways that mean they can actually expire if someone has a lot of glucose.

Carbohydrates – consider them macromolecules of a lot of sugar – actually burden the system,  especially for someone with type 1 diabetes. Carbohydrates force the pancreas to work harder. I will never say something like reduce (carbohydrates) to zero percent anything. We have never been designed to survive on earth with diets that contain zero percent anything, just moderation and common sense. It makes intuitive sense to keep carbohydrates down.

Can AAT treatment help type 2 diabetics as well?

Good question. You mention type 2 diabetes. It is in many ways worse than type 1 diabetes because type 2 diabetics have usually had the condition for more than 10 years. So type 2 diabetes often goes undetected for a very long time. Often, if you ask type 2 diabetics what led to their diagnose, they say that it was a routine check-up at work, and suddenly their glucose levels were very high. All that time AAT is neutralised, inactivated, hard to control, in people whose lifestyle is pretty much fixed.

First of all, you have to consider that this molecule, and shedding light on a particular juncture in immunology, is not necessarily restricted to type 1 diabetes. That’s because there is an interface where inflammation, immune cells and suffering cells meet. AAT disengages some of those vicious cycles that tend to aggravate themselves.

What about negative side effects?

So far none at the range we are considering, and at the duration, definitely.

People until now have taken (AAT) for life and at higher doses. (For diabetes), we mimic those doses and limit treatment for several weeks. In fact, even the FDA (Food and Drug Administration, the US regulatory body) immediately approved phase 2 trials of AAT in patients. There was no need for toxicology trials because it was clear that nothing bad happens to healthy people who take it.

That’s impressive, but clinicians find it hard to accept. And of course, they would want to know what happens long-term, after many years. Well, these patients have been followed for 13 years, 25 years on AAT infusions. That’s very long-term for weekly infusions. And we do know that if anything, patients have lower infection rates, and lower cancer rates than normal populations. Because they are being treated all the time with A1AT, their bodies are basically submerged in this mode where their immune system is functioning but their tissues are protected.

So this is one of the holy grails of modern medicine – a cure for diabetes, but not only for type 1 diabetes, as it has many other applications?

We have to consider other immune conditions. There is some evidence that AAT infusion can help to deviate the course of multiple sclerosis (MS). That’s an exciting (avenue of research), as my mother suffered from MS. It was from a pre-clinical study done between our group at Ben Gurion University and (US scientists) in Portland.




  1. Hi, my husband has had Type 1 Diabetes for over 30 years. Could this type of treatment still be effective for him, or at least in managing his Diabetes? Even though we try to lead the healthiest lifestyle we possibly can, and manage his Diabetes as best we can, his blood sugar levels remain extremely difficult to keep stable, which has so many other health implications for him. Thank you.

    • Hi Robyn, my understanding is that this treatment works best close to diagnosis. My research and best scientific contacts say that a ketogenic diet helps type 1 diabetics significantly reduce their meds.

    • Low Carb diet (Dr. Richard Bernstein)(Best long term management solution)
      High Omega3/Vit D3 supplementation (Dr. Camillo Ricordi)
      AAT Therapy (Dr. Eli Lewis)

      Begin all ASAP!

      • Marc,

        One additional note: While you should ABSOLUTELY follow all of the instructions of your local endocrinologist/diabetes team when you are being stabilized at the hospital (at diagnosis), what I have found is that your entire life for the next 1-3 months needs to become a full on sprint away from the traditional protocol of high (“constant”) carbs, high insulin, and towards the sane and effective management practices of doctors such as Richard Bernstein. Once you really begin to understand the disease, it is difficult to not begin to wonder if the mainstream medical community is actually trying to ensure that the T1D is as dependent upon their’s and Big Pharma’s services/products as possible. The mainstream docs are great at stabilizing an acute situation, but absolutely terrible at the longterm management. Hope this helps.

    • Hello,
      My 7 years old was diagnosed 6 months ago. I am working with holistic doctor and nutritionist he is doing great with gluten free diet, low carb and some natural supplements to strengthen his immune system and reduce inflammation. No insulin. I will be more than happy to share my experience with you. His A1C went down from 11.84 to 6. It takes a lot of commitment. My doctor reach out to doctor Lewis. We are still waiting for his feedback. Good luck to you. It is devastating to get your a little child diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.
      Thank you

      • Mrs . Rachidi- would you mind sharing the supplements your naturopath has your 7 year old taking? I agree that a gluten/ grain free diet and low carb is key in managing Type 1.

        • Hello,

          Absolutely. My son takes Gymnema and black seed oil very low doses. Also vitamin D and Carlson fish oil for Omega 3.

          His blood sugar is stable between 76 and 110. My son does not eat any processed/junk food. I make all meals at home. There are a lot of great websites for low carb/ paleo/keto recipes for cookies, muffins, pancakes, waffles……these recipes are safe and delicious for the entire family. It is overwhelming at the beginning but it gets easier with time.
          I am praying every day for a cure.

          Good luck to you and your little one.
          Thank you

    • Hi Marc- I am sorry to hear about your daughter’s dx. I also have a T1 daughter. I know of 2 people who have done AAT for their newly dx’d kids- one had no effect and the other it helped and prolonged her honeymoon period. Perhaps contact Dr Lewis directly as he sees patients within 100 days of dx. Also, adopting a low carb diet will be very helpful and minimize highs and lows. You can watch videos online by Dr Richard Bernstein. There are fb support groups as well.

  2. Hi Marika, my son is 8 years old and has type one diabetes since he was 18 months! I guess he will never be able to get the treatment! I hope that one day this treatment will be available for kids like him. Keep up the good work and until then I will keep on praying.

  3. Hi Marika

    Could you also kindly send the contact details for a 9 year old who was diagnosed with T1 a year ago. Will Greatly appreciate

    Many Thanks.

      • Our three year old son was diagnosed last week. We would love to know more about how we could get this treatment for him. Please send any further information you have!

        • Hi Chris,

          Were you able to contact dr. Lewis and have you applied AAT to your son? My son was diagnosed 1 month ago and I would like to see if somebody has good results with this therapy.

          Please let me know

          • We successfully completed 23 infusions of AAT. While we did not obtain a “cure” due to (I believe) a viral event we dealt with 1/4 of the way into treatment, we have retained a substantial portion of our son’s beta cell mass (c peptide of 2.1) that has given us fantastic blood sugar control with about 1/20th the amount of exogenous insulin requirement compared to his peers. We had our quarterly visit with the endocrinologist last week, and she commented that his blood sugar control is better than what she sees in children with bionic pancreases. Very happy with our results. May have stopped short of a full cure, but achieved 90% of our goals, and thereby, will ensure that our son does not suffer from the long term complications that come with exorbitant insulin use, and poor blood sugar control (high A1c). Other resources for you to look into that are aimed at the same goals, but though different approaches: 1. Use of DHA/Vit D for immunomodulation, suppression of systemic inflammation, and preservation of beta cell mass :http://preventt1d.org/how-to-prevent-type-1-diabetes/. 2. Use of low carb/high protein diet for blood sugar control (avg A1c of 4.5-5.5 in the people using this method) in order to prevent long term complications, prevent systemic inflammation and glycation, and through this, the preservation of beta cell mass: Order and read ‘Dr. Bernstein’s Diabetes Solution’, as well as googling ‘type1grit’. You will find everything you need there.

          • Thank you for this input and insight, Josh. I am delighted to hear of your son’s progress. How lucky he is to have parents like you. It’s people like you who make my work worthwhile. It is a privilege to be part of documenting this amazing and neverending journey. Please keep in touch.

  4. Hi, my daughter is 10 years old but have diabetes already since she was 2,5 years. Is this still applicable also for a long time T1? We are on a low carb diet.

  5. Hi, my 3 year old daughter was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes just 3 weeks ago. I’d be really interested to find out if we can do anything more for her?

    • Hi Angie, contact Prof Lewis at Ben Gurion University of the Negev in Israel. There are trials in the US as well. Good luck!

  6. Hi Marika, my three year old was diagnosed with type 1 December 2016. I have him on a super well balanced vegan diet including herbscand suppements for his size, and have searched endlessly for a cure. I have him down to 3.5 – 5 units total insulin a day eating a total of 105 – 130 carbs. Can I be put in touch with Prof Lewis? I’m so worried that if i wait too long, it wil be too late for any cure to heal him.

  7. Hey Marika

    I would love to get some information to my email. I’m looking for a treatnment for my 1.5years old daughter…
    Thanks in advance

  8. Hello,I have 6 year old son with diabetes 1 since October 2015,I tried everything possible to find a cure,please can you help me to reach Dr Eli Lewis?Thank you in advance

  9. Hello, very interesting article. I have an 8 year old daughter that was diagnosed Type 1 August of 2015 and have been researching cures every chance I can. I would love to hear more about your program and if this could be something that could help cure her. We live in Sacramento, California.

    Thank you!

    • Hi Brenda, would really like to know if you managed to contact Dr Eli? We’re basically in the same boat as you and your daughter with my son (12yrs old) recently diagnosed type 1. We live in South Africa.

      Hope to hear from you soon.


  10. I am a type 1 diabetic. I am having a rough time with neuropathy and would love to be a part of research to cure type 1 diabetes or how to live better with this illness.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.