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Researchers identify gene responsible for reactivating insulin-producing beta cells.

A team of researchers from Brigham Young University have pinpointed a gene that may help solve a riddle at the root of diabetes, the high-blood-sugar disease affecting 400 million people worldwide.  To peel back the cellular layers and understand that gene better, the team turned to some experts with extensive personal, daily knowledge about the disease, students with diabetes.

The team are investigating the molecular pathways that can activate the replication of beta cells. The team explain that beta cells are insulin-producing pancreas cells that are attacked and destroyed by the immune system of those with Type 1 diabetes.  The current study concentrates on Aurora Kinase A, a gene that not only causes beta cells to replicate, but also helps them maintain their ability to identify glucose and secrete insulin in response.  The results show actual proliferation with beta cells growing, dividing and secreting insulin.

The researchers now plan to define all the genes that enable beta cells replicate, so that in time, chemists can devise drugs that can activate or shut off those genes.  The team hypothesize that if they could give beta cells back to a patient who is diabetic, that could be a way of treating their diabetes.

Previous studies show that current methods to reintroduce beta cells to diabetics include taking beta-cell-producing islets from cadavers and transplanting them into a patient. To have a sufficient amount of beta cells for islet transplant, one needs two cadavers worth of islets. Lining up enough donors that have matching blood and tissue types for each diabetic is prohibitively expensive, timely and sometimes minimally successful.

The team surmise that knowing the pathways that induce beta cell growth could reduce the amount of islets needed for a recipient, or, perhaps, could lead to solutions where a patient’s own residual beta cells replicate without a transplant.

Source:  Brigham Young University

 

Islets are clusters of cells within the pancreas containing the insulin-producing beta cells that are critically important in diabetes. This close-up image of an islet shows beta cells in green.  Credit:   University of Minnesota Schulze Diabetes Institute.
Islets are clusters of cells within the pancreas containing the insulin-producing beta cells that are critically important in diabetes. This close-up image of an islet shows beta cells in green. Credit: University of Minnesota Schulze Diabetes Institute.

 

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