Life with Type 1 Diabetes,
medical research and the search for a cure

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cells Pancreas cells can convert to produce insulinJDRF researchers have shown for the first time that other pancreas cells can spontaneously re-program themselves to produce insulin without the need for complex genetic modification or surgical transplantation.

Under healthy conditions, beta cells regenerate slowly to respond to increased insulin requirements or to replace those lost by injury. In the case of type 1 diabetes however, the beta cells are destroyed faster than they can naturally regenerate.

For the last decade, researchers around the world have been working towards developing ways to either re-grow remaining beta cells, or transplant new beta cells that have been genetically modified to be invisible to the immune system.

In this case, the research team led by Dr Pedro Herrera at the University of Geneva in Switzerland, took a slightly different approach. They killed off all functioning beta cells in a special population of mice then gave the mice insulin therapy whilst using fluorescent dyes to track what happened to the cells in their pancreas over the next year.

What they found is that another group of pancreas cells – the alpha cells – spontaneously reprogrammed themselves over time to take over the role of insulin production.

Alpha cells reside next to beta cells in the pancreatic and normally produce glucagon – a hormone that has the opposite effect of insulin. In this case, researchers found that after they were reprogrammed, they produced both glucagon and insulin in quantities sufficient enough to maintain normal blood glucose levels.

Dr Dorota Pawlak 100x100 Pancreas cells can convert to produce insulin

Dr Dorota Pawlak

Dr Dorota Pawlak, Head of Research Development for JDRF Australia says that this is an enormously exciting discovery for type 1 diabetes research.

“This research is the first to show that it is possible to spontaneously regenerate insulin-producing cells from other pancreatic tissue without having to resort to complex and potentially dangerous drug treatments.”

“The key difference between this study and others is all the beta cells were removed.”

“It is believed that a small number of beta cells still exist in the pancreas of people with type 1 diabetes, even after many years of living with the disease. This research showed simply removing all the beta cells in mice naturally triggered the re-programming process in the alpha cells.”

“Whilst it is important to remember that this research was conducted in mice and therefore is not immediately transferable to humans, it is a great step forward and will ultimately lead to the development of new therapies to reverse and cure type 1 diabetes.”

JDRF is a world leader in the field of beta cell regeneration. Find out more about beta cell regeneration.

19 Comments

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  • Posted on 9th Apr, 2010 at 4:19 am

    yay!

  • Posted on 9th Apr, 2010 at 4:24 am

    That sounds incredibly exciting. Who would have thought that deliberately ending the honeymoon could have that effect? Wow.

  • michelle smith
    Posted on 9th Apr, 2010 at 1:25 pm

    what a wonderful advancement towards finding a cure. every step is a steo closer.

  • Alice Thomas
    Posted on 13th Apr, 2010 at 1:29 am

    This is very encouraging and we earnestly hope it leads to a cure in humans.

  • Marlene Keil
    Posted on 14th Apr, 2010 at 2:25 am

    How exciting. Thank you for your research – every step is such wonderful encouragement to us diabetics that one day in the not too distant future there will be a cure.

  • Alan Gore
    Posted on 14th Apr, 2010 at 2:14 am

    All diabetics will or should rejoice from this news, as it is one more step closer to No injections or blood tests.

  • Stewart
    Posted on 14th Apr, 2010 at 2:47 am

    The Pharmaceutical companies will find out about this and we'll never hear about it for another 10 years. they just make to much money from us to just cure it!

  • ang
    Posted on 14th Apr, 2010 at 2:47 am

    Great news. My daughter is still in the honeymoon stage, and is very unstable, which at age 7 is dufficult for her to manage. Thank you to everyone who puts time and effort into this research.

  • Trudy
    Posted on 14th Apr, 2010 at 3:25 am

    This is awesome news! Where do we sign up. I can not wait for this to be further investigated. My son has already improved from not drinking cows milk this will just take it to the next level.

  • Sam
    Posted on 14th Apr, 2010 at 4:35 am

    Hey there trudy, what wonderful news re the pancreas cells, you said that you have taken your son off cows milk and he has improved, on what level and what do you use instead of cows milk? Soy products instead of dairy ???? does this help with levels??? hope to hear from you, Sam in tassie

  • Kuriakose
    Posted on 14th Apr, 2010 at 5:32 am

    I say thank God for a solution. Thousands are praying for a cure. Give our Scientists more wisdom and ability to bring the solution closer to people. Congratulations, the people worked behind it and the supporters.

  • Kendall T
    Posted on 14th Apr, 2010 at 10:58 am

    I commend the research scientists work and advances on a cure for type 1, but I must agree with Stewart's comment. My type 1 arrived at 52 years of age, nearly 3 years ago and I'm still on the honeymoon period, most likely due to my strict diet and exercise regime. I hope to get the minimum "3 score and 10" in as all should. I doubt very much there will be a cure on the market between now and then, but we can live in hope.

  • Lyn
    Posted on 14th Apr, 2010 at 11:44 am

    I am also interested in finding out more about cows milk and what sort of difference did it make?

  • Michael
    Posted on 15th Apr, 2010 at 8:14 pm

    if type 1 sufferers killed off there beta cells once, could they possibly do it again and again as a genetic defect in their makeup?

  • Posted on 18th Apr, 2010 at 11:45 pm

    Hi Michael – yes that is an important point. The autoimmune attack that causes the destruction of beta cells and leads to type 1 diabetes will attack any new beta cells. This means that any therapies which look at regenerating or replacing beta cells have to be coupled with therapies to protect these cells. This is one of the reasons why people who receive islet transplants have to take immunosuppressive drugs.

    JDRF supports a lot of research into immune therapies which are focused on stopping, or reversing this autoimmune attack, and there have recently been some very exciting breakthroughs in this area.

  • Leanne
    Posted on 30th Apr, 2010 at 3:41 am

    That<s fantastic news lets all keep our fingers crossed for a positive,and permanent ,result .

  • Claire
    Posted on 17th May, 2010 at 5:18 am

    My daughter was diagnosed with type 1 18 months ago at age 23 – a fit and healthy young woman it seemed whose life changed almost overnight. The amount of research even in the short time since she was diagnosed is really encouraging. I check your site regularly to see if there is more …… huge thanks and all power to the researchers … if only, if only the research could go even faster …
    Claire

  • Posted on 10th Jun, 2010 at 11:27 am

    Insulin Resistance…

    I found your entry interesting so I’ve added a Trackback to it on my weblog :)

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