A team of researchers have developed a new method of creating insulin producing cells out of other cells in the pancreas.
Specific cells in the pancreas, known as beta cells, produce insulin. In type 1 diabetes, these beta cells are wrongly marked out for destruction by the body’s immune system. Once type 1 diabetes has developed, the immune system will continue to kill off these cells for the rest of the person’s life.
Whilst beta cells produce insulin, there is another type of cells, called alpha cells, which produce the hormone glucagon and are unaffected by type 1 diabetes. Researchers from Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute have developed a technique to change glucagon producing alpha cells into insulin producing beta cells.
The research team found that when they introduced a peptide that was originally found in tree frogs, called caerulei, into mice with very little ability to produce insulin as a result of beta cell loss, the alpha cells differentiated into beta cells. The researchers followed up the findings and found that human pancreatic tissue also responded in the same way.
More research and development will certainly be needed as it is known that giving caerulein to humans can bring on pancreatitis, inflammation of the pancreas which can be life threatening. The other obstacle is that the autoimmune response of type 1 diabetes that kills off beta cells will still apply, so other drugs to restrain the autoimmune response will likely be needed.

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