A newly discovered hormone could pave the way for a new, more effective treatment for diabetes, according to researchers in the US.
Scientists at Harvard University recently identified a hormone called betatrophin in mice, which they say triggers the natural production of insulin by promoting the growth of insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas.
Tests on lab mice showed that betatrophin causes the animals to produce insulin at 30 times the normal rate, but only when the body needs it.
The researchers confirmed that the gene “definitely exists in humans” and believe it could lead to a new form of treatment for humans with type 2 diabetes that doesn’t involve injecting insulin several times a day.
“If this could be used in people it could eventually mean that instead of taking insulin injections three times a day, you might take an injection of this hormone once a week or once a month, or in the best case maybe even once a year,” explained Dr Doug Melto, co-director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute who conducted the research.
“We would provide this hormone, the type 2 diabetic will make more of their own insulin-producing cells, and this will slow down, if not stop, the progression of their diabetes. I’ve never seen any treatment that causes such an enormous leap in beta cell replication.”
Dr Melton added that betatrophin may also have a potential role in treating type 1 diabetes, but stressed that it could take several years before a treatment based on the hormone is considered for diabetes in humans.
The research findings are published online in the April 25 edition of the journal Cell.

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