Register for an account

X

Enter your name and email address below.

Your email address is used to log in and will not be shared or sold. Read our privacy policy.

X

Website access code

Enter your access code into the form field below.

If you are a Zinio, Nook, Kindle, Apple, or Google Play subscriber, you can enter your website access code to gain subscriber access. Your website access code is located in the upper right corner of the Table of Contents page of your digital edition.

Health

Hormone Boosts Insulin-Producing Cells in Diabetic Mice

D-briefBy Breanna DraxlerApril 27, 2013 6:00 PM

Newsletter

Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

Mouse-eating-corn-286x300.jpg

Researchers have discovered a hormone that triggers the production of insulin-producing cells in mice, a development that could lead to better diabetes treatments in the future. Diabetics are short on insulin---in the case of type 1 diabetes, because their immune system attacks their beta cells (the body's insulin factories); in type 2 diabetes, because their body stops responding to insulin's signals. The latter condition is called insulin resistance. All told, diabetes affects an estimated 366 million people in the world today. Daily insulin shots are a direct, if short-term, way to treat the disease, but researchers at Harvard think they may be onto an even more promising solution: boosting beta cells.

Beta cells reproduce via duplication. When we're babies, these cells are cranking out copies like crazy. But by the time adulthood rolls around, this production process has slowed down almost to a halt, so that less than one half of one percent of cells are dividing daily.

The researchers began with the knowledge, from previous work, that insulin resistance can spur beta cell replication. Essentially, the body creates more beta cells to try to solve the problem of insulin resistance. Then the researchers found a way to replicate insulin resistance in mice by giving them a drug. Under the effects of the drug, the beta cells duly replicated, and the researchers then looked at which genes in the mouse were responsible. One gene in particular, which researchers called betatrophin, seemed to be the key player. The researchers confirmed this by injecting healthy mice with betatrophin and observing its effects. Mice given betatrophin had three times as many beta cells, in terms of area, as did control mice, and twice as much insulin being created by the pancreas. And this insulin was definitely serving its purpose---injected mice had a lower fasting blood glucose level, and greater glucose tolerance, than the untreated cohort. These measures indicate that betatrophin could treat the underlying causes of diabetes. A number of genes and hormones have been shown to impact beta cell production along with other things, but betatrophin appears to be the first to produce only beta cells and impact their numbers significantly, according to the results

published in Cell this week. The scientists still don't know how betatrophin works, and the treatment is by no means ready for human use. But if future studies on diabetic people prove as effective as the ones on healthy mice, diabetics may eventually be able to have their cake and eat it too. Image courtesy of Africa studio/Shutterstock

2 Free Articles Left

Want it all? Get unlimited access when you subscribe.

Subscribe

Already a subscriber? Register or Log In

Want unlimited access?

Subscribe today and save 70%

Subscribe

Already a subscriber? Register or Log In