A breakthrough discovery involving a protein that binds to Vitamin D might improve the future understanding of why type 1 diabetes develops.

Researchers from the University of Birmingham say that the Vitamin-D-binding protein (DBP) plays a key role in the function of the alpha and beta cells in the pancreas.

The study findings further support previous research showing that alpha cell function also seems to fail when type 1 diabetes starts to develop.

The trial involved using genetically modified mice that did not produce DBP. When compared to normal mice, the research team discovered their alpha cells were smaller, less responsive to low glucose levels and produced less glucagon.

Beta cells were more active when blood sugar was low among the animals with no DBP.

The research team that applied their findings to human beings, using pancreatic samples from people who had lived with diabetes.

They found that DPB levels were lower and alpha cells were smaller among the people who had lived with type 1 diabetes for a long period of time, or who had been diagnosed in later life.

DBP levels appeared to be more normal in the people who had been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in early life.

Lead researcher Dr Katrina Viloria said: “Alpha cells don’t tend to receive as much attention as beta cells in type 1 diabetes, yet their contribution to blood glucose should not be underestimated.

“Together with colleagues in Exeter, Oxford and Edmonton, we have been able to reveal DBP as a critical player in alpha cell function. We now want to understand whether DBP supplementation is able to modify glucagon release during type 1 diabetes.”

The study findings have been published in the Cell Reports journal.

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