LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- With COVID-19 cases on the rise again, a Hawthorne girl's story reminds us of the ongoing consequences of this virus.
One resulting complication can be Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes.
Researchers at the Children's Hospital Los Angeles are investigating new ways to reverse the long term effects.
When Xitlali Ramirez was 8, she became the first CHLA patient to be diagnosed with a mysterious a COVID complication called multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children or MIS-C. After being in the pediatric intensive care unit for 11 days, Xitlali developed Type 1 diabetes.
"While she was in the hospital, they discovered that her sugar levels were totally high," said Xitlali's mother Rosa Vasquez.
During the pandemic, CHLA scientists were among the first in the nation to report a sharp spike in the number of COVID positive children who had insulin-producing cells that abruptly stop working.
"We look at how COVID-19 may affect how your insulin cells function," said Dr. Senta Georgia, a principal investigator with the Saban Research Institute at CHLA. "We are actively trying to study if your body can recover any damage that has happened to your insulin after a COVID-19 infection."
Georgia and her colleagues are also investigating whether they can create a treatment using pluripotent stem cells.
In a patient with Type 1 diabetes, the pancreas does not make insulin because their immune system attacks the islet cells, the cells that make insulin. CHLA researchers are working on ways to replace those cells.
"We use our stem cell models to try to understand how to build the best functioning insulin cells such that we may be able to package those cells and again give them back to patients in the future," Georgia said.
This type of regenerative medicine could someday help young patients like Xitlali who deal with insulin checks and injections several times a day.
"I check my blood sugar, I count all the carbs and then I take my insulin," she said.
Georgia said being able to replace damaged islet cells would essentially be a cure. Xitlali hopes such a treatment could someday be available to her and others like her.
"They get to help other children and other patients that are dealing with the same thing," she said.