24 February 2017
Scientists in the United Stateshave found that a fasting diet could trigger the pancreas to regenerate, in recent studies in mice.
Why is this important?
In Type 1 diabetes, insulin-producing cells in the pancreas are destroyed by the immune system. In Type 2 diabetes, they often stop working properly over time, leading to the progression of the condition.
This means that finding new ways to regenerate insulin-producing cells is really important for people with both types of diabetes.
What did the research show?
In this study, the mice were fed a diet that mimics fasting conditions for five days, before they returned to a normal diet. The researchers found that this process triggered cells in the pancreas to ‘reprogram’ themselves, helping to rebuild parts of the pancreas that were not working properly.
The researchers hope their findings could be used to develop new ways to regenerate beta cells in people with diabetes. While the research doesn’t suggest that starvation is a feasible treatment option, understanding the biology behind the findings could unlock new strategies for getting pancreatic cells back in working order.
“We need to see if the results hold true in humans”
Dr Emily Burns, Research Communications Manager at Diabetes UK, said: "This is potentially very exciting news, but we need to see if the results hold true in humans before we'll know more about what it means for people with diabetes.
"People with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes would benefit immensely from treatments that can repair or regenerate insulin-producing cells in the pancreas."
Regenerating insulin-producing cells in the pancreas is an important step towards finding a cure for Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, but it’s not the only part of the puzzle.
For Type 1 diabetes, researchers also need to develop ways to stop the rogue immune system from attacking the pancreas. Those two aspects together – preventing the immune attack and replacing beta cells – could be the key to a cure.