For years, researchers have been exploring different ways to promote insulin production in individuals with type 1 diabetes (T1D). They have tried to protect insulin-producing beta cells, implant new cells, leverage remaining cells, and more, all with varying levels of success. Another approach is to use existing cells within the body, be it stem cells or islet non-β-cells.
A recent study examines α-cells and pancreatic polypeptide (PPY)-producing γ-cells and their potential to become insulin-producing cells. Researchers collected these cells from both diabetic and non-diabetic human donors who were deceased and inserted them into diabetic mice. Then, they used the transcription factors PDX1 and MAFA to reprogram the cells to produce insulin. They found that the cells had a great deal of plasticity and retained their expression of α-cells markers while reversing diabetes and continuing to generate insulin after six months. This method has not yet been tested in humans.
Though more research is needed, their findings show the potential for reprogramming α-cells to do the work of insulin-producing β-cells which the body’s immune system has destroyed. The conversion of α-cells may also hold potential for treating degenerative diseases.
The Diabetes Research Connection (DRC) follows the latest research in the field and supports early career scientists in pursuing novel, peer-reviewed studies to keep the understanding of T1D going. Researchers receive 100% of funds raised by the DRC to execute studies regarding the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of type 1 diabetes, as well as improving quality of life for individuals living with the disease. Find out more about current projects and how to support these efforts by visiting http://diabetesresearchconnection.org.