There is hope for a future cure of insulin-dependent (type 1) diabetes from Jerusalem researchers who have identified the key signal that initiates production of insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas.
They call their discovery a breakthrough that could help researchers find ways to restore or increase beta cell function in people with this type of diabetes, which usually appears in childhood.
The work on the multi-year project was led by Prof. Yuval Dor of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Institute for Medical Research Israel-Canada and colleagues from the Hadassah University Medical Center, with assistance from the diabetes section of the Roche pharmaceuticals company. The study was published in a recent issue of the journal Cell Metabolism.
“Our work shows that as the glucose level is increased in the blood, it tells the beta cells to regenerate,” said Dor. “It’s not blood glucose per se that is the signal, but the glucose-sensing capacity of the beta cell that’s the key for regeneration.”
This was the first time that this sensing of a high level of glucose has been shown to be the “trigger” that induces beta cells to regenerate.
In persons suffering from type 1 (juvenile-onset) diabetes, the immune system launches a misguided attack on the insulin producing beta cells as if they were foreign cells, resulting in the cells’ decline of insulin production and eventual loss of function.
Without insulin, the body’s cells cannot absorb glucose from the blood and use it for energy. As a result, glucose accumulates in the blood, leaving the body’s cells and tissues starved for energy. That’s why people with the disease must inject insulin and monitor their blood glucose levels carefully several times a day. To cure type 1 diabetes, methods must be developed to increase beta cell replication and mass, thus the potential therapeutic importance of the current study.