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article imageCreation of insulin-releasing cells may help diabetes treatment

By Ken Hanly     Apr 14, 2016 in Health
La Jolla - Both type 1 and type 2, or adult onset, diabetes involve either an inability to produce or properly process the insulin necessary to control blood sugar levels.
Diabetes or Diabetes Mellitus (DM) is a group of metabolic diseases in which there will be high levels of blood sugar over a long period if the disease is not controlled. If the high blood levels persist there can be serious long-term complications including heart problems, stroke, kidney failure, foot ulcers and eye damage. The disease can be due to the pancreas not producing enough insulin or the failure of the body to able to use the insulin produced. Type 1 is a result of failure of the pancreas to produce enough insulin. Treatment is through insulin injections. The cause is not known. Type 2 involves insulin resistance in which the body does not respond to insulin. However, as the disease develops there may be a shortage of insulin as well. Although it often occurs in obese people or those who do not exercise enough, there can be other causes. The third type is gestational diabetes in which there are high blood sugar levels in pregnant women. Usually the problem corrects itself after birth. Type 1 is managed with insulin injections. In the early stages Type 2 may be helped by diet and exercise but often oral medications are used as well. Insulin can also be used, especially in later stages or if moral medications cease working.
The lack of insulin or the ability to process it and the resultant inability to control blood sugar levels is linked to malfunctioning or failing beta cells in the pancreas. So far scientists have not been able to produce replacement cells in the lab that would be able to function correctly. In a recent breakthrough, a team of researchers at the Salk Institute believe they have solved the problem: The Salk scientists found a protein switch – one of several transcription factors in a beta cell – called ERR-gamma that makes the lab-grown cells more responsive to glucose and gets them releasing insulin at a normal rate. This ERR-gamma switch appears to be the master regulator for maturing glucose-responsive beta cells.
Transcription factors are described here. The researchers were able to test their discovery by transplanting mature beta cells into Type 1, insulin dependent, diabetic mice with the ERR-gamma switch on. Two months after this transplantation, about half of the diabetic mice showed normal blood glucose levels.
The research shows quite promising results but further tests and human trials will be necessary. It may be possible one day to produce the insulin-producing beta cells from stem cells taken from patients. In the best case scenario, Type 1 diabetics may be able to control their blood sugar levels without having to constantly inject insulin. In some patients the disease might be virtually eliminated. The full paper describing the research can be found in Cell Metabolism
Source Salk Institute.
More about Diabetes, Insulin, beta cells
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