In individuals with type 1 diabetes (T1D), the body’s immune system mistakenly destroys insulin-producing beta cells necessary for managing blood sugar. Instead, patients must constantly monitor their own blood glucose levels and administer the proper dosage of insulin as necessary. In individuals without T1D, the pancreas does this automatically.
Some of the challenges that researchers have faced in trying to treat or cure T1D through cellular means is that the body may still reject these cells, there may be a shortage of donor cells, or the process of creating necessary beta cells can be complex. However, researchers at the Diabetes Research Institute at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine may have found an effective way of using the body’s existing cell supply to generate insulin-producing beta cells.
The researchers identified the exact location in the body of progenitor cells with the ability to develop into beta cells. When stimulated by bone morphogenetic protein 7 (BMP-7), a naturally occurring growth factor, the pancreatic cells differentiated into the necessary beta cells. This discovery could lead to a significant supply of new beta cells within patients’ own bodies, eliminating the need for donor cells and curbing other immune-related challenges of treatment.
This process still requires more in-depth study, but it could lead the way to new regenerative medicine strategies that stimulate insulin production more naturally. The researchers are currently exploring options to reduce the need for lifelong anti-rejection drugs by enhancing immune tolerance of the newly created cells.
This study is another step toward advancing the treatment of T1D and providing patients with more options for care. The more scientists learn about the causes and effects of T1D, the more they can target approaches to treatment.
The Diabetes Research Connection (DRC) stays abreast of the latest developments in the field and encourages novel research projects by early-career scientists focused on T1D. The DRC raises funds through contributions by individuals, organizations, and foundations to support the advancement of these studies. Find out how you can get involved by visiting http://diabetesresearchconnection.org.