A new discovery about glucagon-producing pancreatic cells suggests the potential for a new treatment to enable the body to cure diabetes itself.
Collaborating with other international researchers, researchers at the University of Bergen, Norway have identified pancreatic cells which are able to change identity and adapt so that they can look after their neighbouring damaged or missing insulin cells. This discovery suggests that future treatments could potentially be developed to enable pancreatic cells in the body to cure diabetes.
Researcher Luiza Ghila at the Raeder Research Lab, Department of Clinical Science, University of Bergen (UiB), said: “We are possibly facing the start of a totally new form of treatment for diabetes, where the body can produce its own insulin, with some start-up help”.
The facts about pancreatic cells
- There are three different types of cells: alpha-cells, beta-cells and delta-cells. They produce different kinds of hormones for blood sugar regulation.
- The pancreatic cells make clusters. Alpha-cells produce glucagon, which increases the blood sugar levels. Beta-cells produce insulin, which decreases glucagon levels, and delta-cells produce somatostatin, which controls the regulation of the Alpha and Beta Cells.
- People with diabetes have a damaged beta-cell function. Therefore, they have constant high blood sugar levels.
How some pancreatic cells change their identity
The mechanisms behind the process of cell identity were discovered in this study. This process is not passive, but the result of signals from surrounding cells.
The researchers discovered that about 2 percent of the neighbouring pancreatic cells could change identity. Even that small amount has led to optimism among the researchers that a potential new diabetes treatment could be development on the basis of this knowledge.
In the study, the researchers were able to increase the number of insulin-producing cells to 5 per cent, using a drug that influenced the inter-cell signalling process. So far, the results have only been shown in animal models.
Ghila added: “If we gain more knowledge about the mechanisms behind this cell flexibility, then we could possibly be able to control the process and change more cells’ identities so that more insulin can be produced.”