Research on Pancreatic Cells May Yield New Diabetes Therapies

Diabetes develops when the pancreas, which produces insulin to regulate blood sugar levels, does not function properly and insulin levels drop.  Type I diabetes results in juveniles and generally requires insulin injections and type II diabetes, known as adult onset, is generally less severe and often may be controlled with oral medication and careful diet.  In the world of vision, the control of diabetes is very important because one side effect of uncontrolled diabetes is diabetic retinopathy, in which vision may be lost entirely.

Scientists at UCLA are working to make other cells in the body act like pancreatic beta cells in a quest to find exciting new therapies for diabetes.  A study published in Developmental Cell describes how researchers may have determined the process that would allow them to convert cells into becoming those essential pancreatic beta cells.

According to study co-author Dr. Anil Bhushan, “Our work shows that beta cells and related endocrine cells can easily be converted into each other.”

Prior to this research scientists had believed that cells retain their own “identity” – and that pancreatic cells would only function as pancreatic cells; that endocrine cells would only function as endocrine cells.  Recent work however, has demonstrated that some cell types can change into other cell types – a determination that is stimulating researchers’ interest in exploring the mechanism of how this is possible.