Researchers think they may have discovered further findings which explain why type 2 diabetes develops in some people.
A team from the Joslin Diabetes Center in Massachusetts has been looking at insulin-producing beta cells and why they can look or behave differently to others.
Now they think that the changes could be down to “differently aged beta cell populations” which can be found in the pancreas.
This could mean that the age of the person could have an impact on whether they develop the condition.
They also think the aging of beta cells could be linked to insulin secretion and can be accelerated by resistance to the hormone, which in turn leads towards type 2 diabetes.
Senior investigator Dr Susan Bonner-Weir said: “This research opens up an entirely new set of questions about the development of type 2 diabetes.”
As beta cells die, the condition gets worse, but experts do not fully understand why this happens, although they do know that over time they do change significantly.
In the study they used very old mice and compared them with much younger mice so they could compare the insulin-producing beta cells.
They wanted to analyse the differences in the beta cells between the two different age groups of the mice.
Dr Bonner-Weir said: “We showed that this heterogeneity may be based on different populations of different-aged beta cells. Even in young animals, where many beta cells are still immature, you may have other beta cells that are at the end of their lifespan. Each life stage may have a different phenotype (different gene expression and function) than the other stages.
“There’s a lot of growth in beta cells up until puberty or even young adulthood, but after that, there’s a very slow turnover. A few cells reach the end of their life span and die, and a few other cells are created.”
The findings, which have been published in the Cell Metabolism journal, may also help understand more about type 1 diabetes too – for example, why some people appear to be more resistant to the autoimmune attack of type 1 diabetes than others.