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Culprit Found for Pancreatic Damage

Diane Fennell

August 7, 2009

Blood glucose levels that are even slightly above normal increase undesirable deposits of a protein hormone in the pancreas, according to new research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, possibly explaining the damage to beta cells seen in people with prediabetes.

Earlier research has shown that baboons develop Type 2 diabetes and obesity in the same manner as humans. Using the autopsy results of 150 baboons that died of natural causes, including diabetes, the investigators discovered that a protein hormone called Islet Amyloid Polypeptide (IAPP) shows up even before the onset of diabetes. As blood glucose levels increase, the study found, the pancreatic deposits of this hormone worsen.

According to the researchers, the hormone somehow changes the environment in an area of the pancreas known as the islets of Langerhans, making it toxic to the insulin-producing beta cells. At the same time, the altered environment promotes the replication of cells that produce glucagon, a hormone that increases blood glucose levels.

According to senior author Franco Folli, MD, PhD, “When you have an imbalance like in this situation, this is the perfect storm. You have a condition in which the beta cells die and the alpha cells proliferate. This is the balance that is basically necessary to have the onset of Type 2 diabetes.” He notes that researchers are currently looking at IAPP as a possible target for drug treatment.

For more information, read the article “Previously Unseen Effects of Protein Buildup in Diabetic Baboons’ Pancreases Found,” or see the study on the Web site of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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