15 December 2015
A new study has suggested that it may be possible for a protein to ‘persuade’ normal pancreatic cells to produce insulin.
A team at the Diabetes Research Institute in Miami, Florida, has transformed non-beta cells in the pancreas into insulin-producing cells. They added BMP7, a protein which helps bones to mend, to pancreatic cells that don’t normally produce insulin. This made the cells produce high amounts of insulin. The cells also secreted even more insulin when exposed to glucose.
The team then put cells that had been treated with BMP7 into mice with diabetes, where the cells acted like healthy beta cells.
The ultimate aim of the team is to inject BMP7 directly into the pancreases of people with Type 1 diabetes, which would enable them to make their own insulin. This would be used alongside immunosuppressants to prevent the immune system destroying the cells. Another option is to create new beta cells from donor cells, and implant them. The effectiveness of cell donation is currently limited as only around two per cent of cells in the pancreas are beta cells. This process could convert the other cells to beta cells, making transplant possible for many more people.
Alasdair Rankin, Diabetes UK's Director of Research, says "this study describes a promising approach, but it will be some years before we know whether it will be effective in medical practice."