Restart Type 1 Diabetes Beta Cells
In a study, published in the journal Cell Death and Disease, researchers at Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute (Sanford-Burnham) report that a peptide called caerulein can convert existing cells in the pancreas into insulin-generating beta cells, which in the bodies of type 1 diabetics’ are mistakenly attacked and destroyed by their immune systems. Caerulein is a peptide, originally discovered in the skin of tree frogs, that stimulates gastric, biliary, and pancreatic secretions. It has been used in humans as a diagnostic tool for pancreatic diseases.
“We have found a promising technique for type 1 diabetics to restore the body’s ability to produce insulin. By introducing caerulein to the pancreas we were able to generate new beta cells, potentially freeing patients from daily doses of insulin to manage their blood sugar levels,” Dr. Fred Levine, professor and director of the Sanford Children’s Health Research Center, explains.
For the study, Dr. Levine and colleagues injected diabetic mice with almost no beta cell function with caerulein. They found that the tiny peptide caused existing alpha cells in the pancreas to regenerate into neighboring pancreatic beta cells.
To test whether caerulein may have the same transforming effect on humans, Levine’s team administered caerulein to pancreatic tissue from patients with type 1 diabetes and found that alpha cells also turned into beta cells, regardless of how young or old the tissue was, including some who had type 1 diabetes for decades..
Generating new cells that produce insulin is one of the major areas of research into finding a cure for type 1 diabetes, but because the condition is an autoimmune disease, the problem researchers face is that any new beta cells will still be targeted by the body’s immune system.
In addition to finding a way to combat the autoimmune response present in every patient with type 1 diabetes, Dr. Levine says there is another issue that needs addressing.
“When caerulein is administered to humans it can cause pancreatitis. So our next step is to find out which molecule(s) caerulein is targeting on alpha cells that triggers their transformation into beta cells.
He adds that if this can be achieved, scientists can develop a more targeted drug and eventually begin human clinical trials.
This is still early research that as a number of hurdles to overcome. If this peptide proves to be safe and effective in humans this will be promising indeed. However, as the researchers said, the autoimmune attack must still be addressed in order for these regenerated beta cells to survive long term.
Until we have a cure for type 1 diabetes, it is our opinion that mastering this disease in the healthiest way possible through lifestyle innovations as a priority over drug therapies is vital. It is important for optimal blood sugar control today, but it can help put your body in a position of strength for tomorrow – for that day when the cure for type 1 diabetes may be found.
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Published online July 31 in Cell Death and Disease