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Cell Conversion Shows Promise for Diabetes Treatment

But researchers must figure out how to keep new beta cells under control

FRIDAY, Aug. 7 (HealthDay News) -- European scientists have identified a transcription factor that plays a key role in the conversion of pancreas cells into insulin-producing beta cells, and the finding could lead to a new treatment for type 1 diabetes.

In tests on mice, the researchers found that when a gene called Pax4 is turned on in pancreatic cells, the cells change their identity to become beta cells. The body senses the loss of alpha cells and replaces them with new ones, which are also converted into beta cells.

With type 1 diabetes, the body destroys beta cells, causing insulin levels to drop and blood sugar levels to soar.

The study, published in the Aug. 7 issue of Cell, also shows that the pancreas is capable of beta cell regeneration.

While this approach was effective in mice, much more research has to be done before it can be determined whether it would work in humans, the researchers said.

One focus of further investigation is determining whether the alpha to beta cell conversion can be kept under control.

"Too many beta cells isn't good either," Ahmed Mansouri of the Max-Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Germany, said in a news release. "We'll need a strategy to trigger Pax4 and, at a certain point, also stop it."

More information

The American Diabetes Association has more about type 1 diabetes.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Cell Press, news release, Aug. 6, 2009

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