Insulin-producing cells can be renegerated
A new discovery suggests potential treatment strategy for type 1 diabetes. Some diabetics’ missing insulin-producing cells might be replaced with the cells found in the patients’ own pancreases.
Researchers from the University of Geneva reported that alpha cells in the pancreas can spontaneously transform into insulin-producing beta cells. The study was done in mice. It was the first to reveal the pancreas’s ability to regenerate missing cells.
Scientists were surprised to find that new beta cells arose from alpha cells in the pancreas without any interference from the researchers, rather than stem cells.
Andrew Rakeman, the scientific program manager for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation’s beta cell therapies program, said it was very basic research, that opened up the idea that reprogramming was not just something the scientists had to force cells to do, that it was an intrinsic property of the cells.
Researchers treated mice to destroy beta cells in the pancreas, and kept the mice alive by giving them insulin. After six months, the mice no longer needed the extra insulin because their pancreases had regenerated between 4 percent and 17 percent of the beta cells that had been present before the treatment. Although only a fraction of beta cells regenerated, it was enough to provide the insulin the mice needed to maintain nearly normal blood sugar levels.
When the researchers examined the mice they found that some of the insulin-producing cells also made glucagon, which is normally made by alpha cells. The finding suggested that the beta cells in the mice had once been alpha cells.
The researchers confirmed that hypothesis by genetically tagging alpha cells in other mice, then killing their beta cells. Newly generated beta cells carried the tags, indicating that a switch had indeed occurred.
The team is now trying to determine if older mice retain the regenerative capacity seen in the young mice used in the study and which signal tells alpha cells to begin transforming into beta cells.
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