THURSDAY, April 25, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- A hormone that could lead to more effective diabetes treatment has been identified by researchers.
The hormone, called betatrophin, causes mice to produce insulin-secreting pancreatic beta cells at up to 30 times the normal rate. But it only produces insulin when the body needs it, according to the team at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute.
The researchers said their findings offer the potential for the natural regulation of insulin and a significant reduction in diabetes-related complications such as blindness and limb amputation.
The study is published in the April 25 online edition of the journal Cell and in its May 9 print issue.
Although the hormone shows promise in lab mice, much more work is needed before it could be considered as a treatment for diabetes in humans, the researchers noted. Results obtained in animal experiments often aren't attainable in trials with humans.
"If this could be used in people, it could eventually mean that instead of taking insulin injections three times a day, you might take an injection of this hormone once a week or once a month, or in the best case maybe even once a year," Doug Melton, co-director of the institute and co-chair of Harvard University's department of stem cell and regenerative biology, said in a university news release.
About 26 million Americans have type 2 diabetes, which causes people to slowly lose beta cells and the ability to produce sufficient amounts of insulin.
"Our idea here is relatively simple," Melton said. "We would provide this hormone, the type 2 diabetic will make more of their own insulin-producing cells, and this will slow down, if not stop, the progression of their diabetes. I've never seen any treatment that causes such an enormous leap in beta cell replication."
Along with its potential for treating type 2 diabetes, betatrophin might also have a role in treating type 1 diabetes, Melton said.
Unlike type 2 diabetes, which is associated with being overweight and sedentary, type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that occurs most often in children and young adults.
The U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases has more about diabetes.