Insulin injections are the primary form of treatment and management for type 1 diabetics, due to an inability to produce normal levels of insulin. Researchers have recently discovered a way to induce insulin production, potentially in type 1 diabetics, through the regeneration of pancreatic beta cells.
Type 1 diabetes is characterized by the destruction of insulin producing pancreatic beta cells, which leads to an inability to naturally regulate blood glucose levels. Without external insulin injections, type 1 diabetics can go into ketoacidosis (diabetes induced coma), which can lead to death. Currently, these insulin injections are the only way to treat this dangerous disease.
Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine aimed to see if certain proteins could induce the regeneration and replication of pancreatic beta cells, leading to insulin production. 34 different proteins were injected into human islets (the location of pancreatic beta cells), and the effect on the beta cells in the islets was monitored. It was found that the protein, cyclin dependent kinase- 6 (cdk6), when administered alone, or along with the protein cyclin D (which did not have a regenerating effect when solely administered), induced the replication of beta cells.
These newly functioning human islets were then tested within an animal model (in other words, they were surgically implanted into diabetic mice). The mice were observed for six weeks, at which point the human islets were removed. Results showed that the islets containing cdk6 did indeed lead to the regeneration of pancreatic beta cells within the diabetic mice, and the subsequent production of insulin. While harboring the human islets, the diabetic mice demonstrated significantly better blood glucose control. Says lead researcher, Dr. Andrew Stewart, “most scientists thought that these important pancreatic cells could not be induced to regenerate, or could only replicate very slowly. This work provides proof-of-principle that the production of human beta cells can be stimulated, and that those newly-generated cells function effectively both in the lab and in a living animal.”
The above results are potentially very big news for future type 1 diabetes treatments. The success of the cdk6 induced beta cell regeneration, not just in the lab, but in a live animal species, holds great promise for human administration. If this research can be further developed into direct human applications, where manipulated human islets with newly functioning beta cell production can be transplanted into human beings, the heavy dependence on insulin injections for type 1 diabetics may begin to dissipate.
Source: Defeat Diabetes Foundation: Stewart, Andrew. Lubarsky, Jillian. Diabetes news release. January 2009.