DRC & Research News

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Removing Senescent Beta Cells May Help Prevent Type 1 Diabetes

Through data gathered in a DRC-sponsored research project, Peter Thompson, Ph.D., was able to secure additional funding that generated the results in this paper. Researchers explored the effects of senescent beta cells – or aging cells that no longer divide – on the development of type 1 diabetes (T1D).

In individuals with T1D, the body’s immune system attacks and destroys insulin-producing beta cells that are necessary for regulating blood glucose levels. However, researchers have found that senescent beta cells increase B-cell lymphoma 2 (Bcl-2) proteins, which in turn regulate cell death or apoptosis. By using a Bcl-2 inhibitor, researchers were able to eliminate senescent beta cells from the body which helps to stop the immune system’s destruction of insulin-producing beta cells and prevents the development of T1D.

This could be a major step forward in using the elimination of senescent beta cells as a therapeutic approach to treating or preventing T1D. More research is necessary to further explore the potential of this approach, but this study sheds new light on how the process impacts T1D and provides a greater understanding of the pathogenesis of the disease.

The Diabetes Research Connection (DRC) is proud to have played a role in providing the initial funding to enable Dr. Thompson and his team to collect necessary data to move forward and receive additional funding for the study. The DRC empowers early career scientists to pursue novel research studies on T1D through the support of individual, corporate, and foundation donations.


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Halting Diabetes: UCSF Researchers Publish Study

UCSF DC Bhushan HebrokWritten by Kathleen Jay on June 23, 2015, via Diabetes Center at UCSF. Click here to read original article.

This week, novel findings by UCSF researchers Anil Bhushan, PhD, and Matthias Hebrok, PhD, for developing therapeutic strategies to combat diabetes were published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

The study, entitled “DNA methylation directs functional maturation of pancreatic beta cells,” analyzes how pancreatic beta cells become fully functional after birth.

“Pancreatic beta cells respond to glucose increases after a meal by secreting insulin. On the other end of the spectrum, the cells react to fasting conditions by preventing insulin production,” said Bhushan, a professor at the Diabetes Center at UCSF. “These cells only acquire the ability to secrete insulin in response to changing glucose levels post-natally, indicating that epigenetic mechanisms direct beta cell maturation after birth.”

External or environmental processes can affect how genes are expressed through a process known as epigenetics. If the DNA code for genes are the words in a book, epigenetics are like bookmarks that direct how and if the words are read. External factors can lead to epigenetic alterations, with molecular changes such as DNA methylation,that affect gene expression, without altering the underlying DNA sequence. Thus, epigenetic modifications provide an additional layer of control of how genes are expressed and impact whether a gene is turned “on” (expressed) or “off” (inhibited).

“Our results highlight a novel epigenetic mechanism that governs how beta cells functionally mature during neonatal life and provide new insights into impaired beta cell function in diabetes,” Bhushan said.

To develop these findings, Sangeeta Dhawan, PhD (now an independent scientist at UCLA) in the Bhushan team worked collaboratively with the Hebrok lab, which performed human beta cell analysis for this study.

“Because diseases, such as diabetes, are characterized by beta cell dysfunction which may involve epigenetic changes, we are trying to counteract these modifications with therapeutic, epigenetic treatments,” Bhushan said. “Unlike DNA sequence mutations, epigenetic changes – by nature – appear to be reversible.”

“With Anil’s arrival to UCSF this year, we have elevated beta cell work to new heights,” Hebrok, the director of the Diabetes Center at UCSF said. “This type of research will be highly useful in predicting diseases, such as type 1 diabetes, as well as improving the overall effectiveness of therapeutics to both reduce beta cell destruction and to promote beta cell regeneration.”

For more information, visit http://diabetes.ucsf.edu.


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