Diabetes is caused by damaged or non-existing insulin cells inability to produce insulin, a hormone that is necessary in regulating blood sugar levels.
Many diabetes patients take insulin supplements to regulate these levels.
In a new study, researchers have discovered that glucagon-producing cells in the pancreas, can change identity and adapt so that they do the job for their neighboring damaged or missing insulin cells.
The study was done by researchers at the University of Bergen and collaborators.
The team suggests that they 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.
In the study, the researchers discovered that only about 2 per cent the neighboring cells in the pancreas could change identity.
However, event that amount makes the researchers are optimistic about potential new treatment approaches.
For the first time in history, the researchers were able to describe the mechanisms behind the process of cell identity.
It turns out that this is not at a passive process, but is a result of signals from the surrounding cells.
In the experiments, the researchers were able to increase the number of insulin-producing cells to 5 percent, by using a drug that influenced the inter-cell signaling process.
Thus far, the results have only been shown in animal models.
The team suggests that if they gain more knowledge about the mechanisms behind this cell flexibility, then they could possibly be able to control the process and change more cells’ identities so that more insulin can be produced.
According to the researchers, the new discoveries is not only good news for diabetes treatment.
It may also be a decisive discovery in treating other diseases caused by cell death, such as Alzheimer´s disease and cellular damage due to heart attacks.
The study is published in Nature Cell Biology.
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Source: Nature Cell Biology.