Regenerating Beta Cells

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Researchers at the Diabetes Research Institute (DRI) of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine recently announced a breakthrough that holds promise as a new and effective treatment for Type 1 diabetes. Writing in the journal Cell Reports, they said they had discovered certain cells in the pancreas, called progenitor cells, that can be stimulated to become beta cells, the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin but that are mistakenly destroyed by the immune system in people with Type 1 diabetes.

So far, the goal of most diabetes researchers has been to create more beta cells to replace the ones destroyed, or, as in Type 2 diabetes, rendered dysfunctional. Two ways of doing this have been through transplanting adult stem cells or porcine (pig) islets. However, according to Juan Dominguez-Bendala, PhD, a principal investigator on the new research, the discovery of the progenitor cells might “help us tap into an endogenous [internal] cell supply ‘bank’ for beta cell regeneration purposes.”

The DRI scientists discovered that the progenitor cells are located in the ductal and glandular network of the pancreas. The cells contain substances that promote beta-cell development and play a role in tissue regeneration. The researchers were able to extract the cells, grow them in a dish, and determine that they can turn into beta cells. The hope now is that the discovery will enable the researchers to develop a virtually unlimited supply of insulin-producing cells. According to Camillo Ricordi, MD, director of the DRI, the new research might someday give clinicians the ability “to restore insulin production in the native pancreas.”

Want to learn more about recent Type 1 diabetes research? Read “Reversing Type 1 Diabetes: New Research From Boston Children’s Hospital,” “Can a Very Low-Carb-Diet Help People With Type 1 Diabetes?” and “Vaccine Leads to Lasting Improvement in Type 1 Diabetes.”

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