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Medical marvel: These insulin-producing cells can change their function in diabetes patients

Insulin is a hormone which regulates blood sugar.

May 18, 2019, 03.32 PM IST
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WASHINGTON DC: Researchers revealed that insulin-producing beta cells can change their own function in diabetes. They found that the RNA messaging system which tells proteins how to behave in cells is functioning differently in diabetes.

The changes lead to some of the beta cells no longer producing insulin which regulates blood sugar, and instead of producing somatostatin, which can block the secretion of other important hormones including insulin itself.

The study may give new insights into how high blood sugar can alter the behaviour of important hormone-producing cells, and pave the way to new treatments.

Professor Lorna Harries, the lead researcher of the study, said: "These insights are really exciting. Only recently, Exeter researchers discovered that people with type 1 diabetes still retain some insulin-producing cells, but the environment produced by diabetes can be toxic for these cells that remain. Our work could lead to new changes to protect these cells, which could help people maintain some ability to make their own insulin. The method we used of creating an all-human cell system for the first time is significant - I don't think we'd have seen these changes in mouse cells."

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The team then analysed post mortem pancreas tissue from people with either type 1 or type 2 diabetes. This revealed that they have more delta cells than they should have, suggesting that diabetes might be causing some of the beta cells to turn into delta cells in people as well as in cells in the laboratory.

"The really exciting finding is that in the laboratory at least, we have been able to reverse the changes - turn the delta cells back to beta cells - if we restore the environment to normal, or if we treat the cells with chemicals that restore the regulator genes and the patterns of RNA messages made to normal. That's very promising when we consider the potential for new therapeutics," concluded Professor Harries.

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