Vanderbilt University scientists have found evidence that the insulin-secreting beta cells of the pancreas, which are either killed or become dysfunctional in the two main forms of diabetes, have the capacity to regenerate.
The surprising finding, posted online recently by Cell Metabolism, suggests that by understanding how regeneration occurs, scientists one day may be able to stop or reverse the rising tide of diabetes, which currently affects more than 8 percent of the U.S. population.
The study "provides clues to how we might learn what signals promote beta-cell regeneration in type 1 and type 2 diabetes," said Alvin Powers, M.D., the paper's senior author and director of the Vanderbilt Diabetes Center.
In the past three months, the Powers group at Vanderbilt, in four separate papers, has reported important findings about the "microenvironment" of the insulin-secreting beta cells and glucagon-secreting alpha cells, which are among four types of cells clustered in "islets" in the pancreas.
Both hormones are important in regulating blood glucose levels and ensuring that glucose is delivered to muscles and brain to be burned as fuel, and stored in the liver. Powers called the islets a "mini-organ" because they are highly vascularized and innervated, and exist within a specialized environment.
In type 1 diabetes, the beta cells are destroyed and glucose levels rise in the blood because not enough insulin is being produced. In type 2 diabetes, a frequent consequence of obesity, tissues become resistant to insulin, again causing blood glucose to rise. Beta cell function also becomes abnormal.
Marcela Brissova, Ph.D., research assistant professor of Medicine, was first or co-first author on three of the manuscripts. Chunhua Dai, M.D., research assistant professor of Medicine; and Kristie Aamodt and Rachel Reinert, Ph.D., students in the Vanderbilt M.D./Ph.D. program, were also among the first or co-first
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Vanderbilt University Medical Center