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Pancreas cells can regenerate

6th April 2010

Pancreas cells destroyed by diabetic processes can regenerate themselves, according to recent Swiss research.

diabetes1

Lead author Pedro Herrera, a cell physiology and metabolism professor at the University of Geneva Medical School, said that, using alpha cells, the adult pancreas could regenerate new beta cells even if they were totally absent.

Insulin is an important hormone in the metabolism of food, because it turns ingested food into energy that cells can use.

In people with type 1 diabetes, lacking beta cells means that the capacity to produce insulin is completely gone, and such sufferers would not be able to live without insulin therapy.

Alpha cells normally secrete a hormone called glucagon, which works against insulin to create a subtle hormonal balance in the pancreas.

However, the finding gives researchers hope that there may soon be a way to cure diabetes.

The researchers arrived at their finding by destroying the insulin-producing cells in mice, thereby causing them to have a condition that mimicked type 1 diabetes.

But experts in the field of diabetes research said that research done on mice was not enough to guarantee that a therapy based on the process could treat humans.

And even if the process did manage to regenerate insulin-producing activity in human bodies, the body's immune defences could end up working against the process.

Andrew Rakeman, a scientific program manager at the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), which helped fund the new study, said that researchers trying to cure diabetes had to consider possible autoimmune responses as much as they had to consider the actual treatment method.

He said that using alpha cells, which were normally not destroyed by the immune system, might be a way to apply the new procedure for treating the disease, since the immune system did not usually react against them.

For the study, the researchers used a toxic process to completely wipe out beta cells in the test mice, then watched as the alpha cells in the mice turned themselves into beta cells.

When the alpha cells finished the beta cell conversion process, the mice no longer needed insulin therapy, because the pancreas was restored to normal functioning.

Rakeman said that the body could naturally reprogramme itself, and that this made the new study exciting.

Herrera said that his research team is currently investigating other types of transformations between different types of cells.

David Kendall, chief scientific officer at the American Diabetes Association, said anything that spoke of a potential source of new insulin producing cells was quite exciting, although early promise in mice was not always a guarantee that a technique would work for humans.

 

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