How pancreatic tumors could help to fight diabetes

A new study analyzes rare tumors in which insulin-producing beta cells are produced in excess in order to find a “genetic recipe” for regenerating these cells. And the findings might change the current therapeutic practices for treating diabetes.
Beta cells play a crucial role in the development of diabetes. These tiny cells found in our pancreas produce insulin, and a loss of beta cells is known to be a cause of type 1 diabetes.

Additionally, recent studies have shown that beta cells also play a crucial role in the development of type 2 diabetes. For instance, a study that Medical News Today reported on found that the release of pro-inflammatory proteins kills off insulin-producing beta cells in the early stages of type 2 diabetes.

But the “problem” with beta cells, medically speaking, is that they replicate in early childhood but cease to proliferate after that.

New research, however, carried out by scientists at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, NY, uncovers a “genomic recipe” for regenerating these key cells.

The study was led by Dr. Andrew Stewart, the director of the Diabetes, Obesity, and Metabolism Institute at the Icahn School of Medicine, and the findings were published in the journal Nature Communications.

Studying rare tumors to fight diabetes
For the new research, Dr. Stewart and team analyzed a very rare type of benign tumor called insulinomas. These are “pancreatic beta cell adenomas” that secrete too much of the hormone insulin.

The tumors are small and proliferate slowly. The researchers used whole-exome and RNA-sequencing analysis to examine the genetic makeup of 38 such tumors.

Speaking to Medical News Today about the rationale for choosing to study insulinomas, Dr. Stewart said, “In order to discover drugs that would make human pancreatic beta cells regenerate in people with diabetes, we wanted to understand how human beta cells normally replicate.”

“Unfortunately,” he added, “human beta cells only replicate in the first year of life, so obtaining beta cells from babies is difficult. On the other hand, insulinomas […] are a prefect model: they are rare, they are benign […] tumors of the human beta cell[s], and make large amount of insulin, so much [that] they cause low blood glucose (hypoglycemia).”


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