A new discovery by researchers at the University of Bergen in Norway indicates that glucagon-producing cells in the pancreas can change identity and release insulin when neighboring beta cells are damaged. Approximately 30 million people in the United States and 245,000 people in Norway are living with diabetes, a condition in which the beta cells are destroyed, in the case of Type 1, or unable to produce sufficient levels of insulin, in the case of Type 2.
The pancreas contains three types of cells: alpha cells, beta cells and delta cells. The alpha cells produce the hormone glucagon, which increases blood sugar levels, while the beta cells produce insulin, which decreases blood sugar levels. Delta cells produce a hormone called somatostatin, which helps regulate alpha and beta cells.
Working with mice, the researchers found that roughly 2 percent of the alpha cells could change identity and start releasing insulin in response to signals from the surrounding cells. By administering a drug that “influenced the inter-cell signaling process,” they were able to increase the number of alpha cells that changed to 5 percent.
“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,” stated researcher and postdoctoral fellow Luiza Ghila. “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,”
For more information, see the article “Our Body May Cure Itself of Diabetes in the Future” or the study’s abstract in the journal Nature Cell Biology.
Want to learn about additional recent diabetes research? Read “Diabetes Research: What’s New?” “Are There Five Types of Diabetes?” “Oral Insulin: Inching Closer to Reality,” and “Erectile Dysfunction in Type 2 Diabetes.”