Non-β-Cells in Pancreas Can Become Insulin Producers

Regeneration of β-cells from α-cells seen in animal study advances prospect of cure for type 1 diabetes

FRIDAY, April 16 (HealthDay News) -- When β-cells, which make and release insulin in the pancreas, are destroyed, non-insulin-producing α-cells can convert into β-cells, according to a mouse study published April 4 in Nature.

Fabrizio Thorel, Ph.D., of the University of Geneva Faculty of Medicine in Switzerland, and colleagues studied a unique model of diabetes in mice whose β-cells had been destroyed to determine whether insulin-producing cells could emerge from other sources.

Fifteen days after β-cell destruction, the researchers found that the mice had zero to two β-cells per islet in 60 percent of islets, and needed insulin to stay alive. Ten months later, 96 percent of islet sections contained more than two β-cells. Lineage tracing showed the new β-cells had derived from neighboring α-cells. As the β-cells regenerated, the need for insulin was eliminated.

"This suggests that all islets in the adult pancreas can regenerate β-cells," the authors conclude. "Such inter-endocrine spontaneous adult cell conversion could be harnessed towards methods of producing β-cells for diabetes therapies, either in differentiation settings in vitro or in induced regeneration."

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