PHILADELPHIA For years researchers have been searching for a way to treat diabetics by reactivating their insulin-producing beta cells, to no avail. Now, they may be one step closer. A protein, whose role in pancreatic development has long been recognized, has been discovered to play an additional and previously unknown regulatory role in the development of cells in the immature endocrine system. These cells ultimately give rise to pancreatic islet cells, which include beta cells.
By carefully defining the developmental steps and genetic circuits that lead to mature beta cells, researchers may be able to one day mimic these developmental processes, thereby facilitating beta-cell growth in the lab, and eventually, new therapies. The findings appear in the July 2009 issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation.
"The protein, Pdx1, is a pivotal molecule in the regulation of beta-cell development and we hope this type of information could help in efforts to generate beta-cell replacements for the treatment of diabetes," says senior author Doris Stoffers, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. Stoffers is also a member of the Institute for Diabetes, Obesity, and Metabolism at Penn.
Pdx1 is a key regulator of pancreatic development and adult beta-cell function. For example, loss of a single copy of Pdx1 in mice leads to diabetes; loss of two copies leads to a complete failure of the pancreas to form. This new research expands the role of Pdx1 in beta-cell biology in the developing embryo.
Ultimately, Stoffers says, these findings could help researchers intent on developing cell-based therapeutic approaches to diabetes though such advances are a long way off. Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes are caused by a loss of insulin-producing beta cells. In theory, transplantation of fresh beta cells should halt the disease, yet researchers have not yet been able to genera
|Contact: Karen Kreeger|
University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine