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Can Type 2 treatments preserve beta cell identity?

Project summary

Lineage tracing of beta to alpha cell transformation in diabetes: significance and effect of therapeutic drugs

Type 2 diabetes progresses because beta cells stop working properly over time, and scientists believe that they could be changing their identity. Dr Moffet wants to see if treatments already licensed to treat Type 2 diabetes may be able to stop the cells from changing their identity, potentially helping to slow the progression of the condition in the future. 

Background to research

The pancreas contains small clusters of cells called islets, and within the islets sit beta cells (producing insulin) and alpha cells (producing glucagon). Research suggests that when the pancreas is exposed to high levels of nutrients – which happens in Type 2 diabetes – beta cells can change their identity and start acting like alpha cells. This process could play an important role in the progression of Type 2 diabetes, and researchers are now investigating the impact of this identity change and whether it could be stopped.

Research aims

Dr Moffett plans to find out whether drugs already used to treat Type 2 diabetes (liraglutide, sitagliptin, dapagliflozin) have an impact on beta cells changing their identity. She will study the islets of mice fed a high fat diet and given one of these existing Type 2 diabetes treatments, to see if any of the treatments cause more or less beta cells to change their identity. In doing so, she aims to find out if a treatment already licensed to control blood glucose levels in Type 2 diabetes could also help to slow the progression of the condition.

Potential benefit to people with diabetes

At Diabetes UK we believe that it’s important to stop Type 2 diabetes as early as possible. If a drug already licensed to treat Type 2 diabetes can be shown to protect beta cells and stop them from changing their identity, it could be used as a treatment earlier on to stop the condition from progressing. This project is the first step to finding out if that could be the case. 

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