A study by scientists at the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry at the University of Exeter has claimed that people who have been born without a pancreas could offer a means to help patients with type 1 diabetes through stem cell research.
As type 1 diabetes is a genetic auto-immune condition, and the body’s own defences work to attack and destroy pancreatic beta cells to stop them producing insulin, patients need to inject themselves with the hormone to manage the disease.
The team have identified a defective gene, called GATA6, which is critical in the development of the pancreas, and the production of insulin cells to help control levels of blood sugar in the body. This study, which was published in the journal Nature Genetics, has highlighted the importance of GATA6 to the production of beta cells for the first time.
Researcher Andrew Hattersley from the Peninsula College, commented “If you want to give type 1 diabetics back the cells they’ve lost, you have to open the right doors and what we’ve found is the key to the first door.” This was eventually found in a child that was born without a pancreas to parents that had regular insulin-producing organs.
Professor Hattersley added “Anything found in the child and not in the parents and you know that’s where the problem is and that’s where we found that first key.”

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