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Scientists Find That a Single Gene Can Convert Pancreatic Alpha Cells Into Betas in Lab Mice

Aug 13, 2009

A single gene, called Pax4, can change alpha cells, on left, into insulin-producing beta cells, on right, in lab mice.

There's a gene whose name you should remember because it could mark a crucial point in the war on type 1 diabetes.

It's called Pax4, and European and U.S. researchers say that when it is forced on the alpha cells of diabetic mice, the cells change their identity and become functioning beta cells-the producers of insulin.

(Alpha cells produce glucagon, a hormone that makes the liver release glucose. In people with type 1 diabetes, whose beta cells have been destroyed or almost completely impaired, there is no insulin to counter the effects of uncontrolled glucagon.)

The researchers, drawn from institutes in France, Denmark, Germany and Belgium, as well as U.S. research centers in Tennessee, knew that Pax4 was a significant factor in insulin production. Previous studies had shown that mice born without the gene died at birth.

By "switching on" Pax4 in mice that had type 1 diabetes, scientists noted an eight-fold increase in their beta cells. As Pax4 converts alpha cells into beta cells, the body senses the loss of alphas and makes replacements. The alphas in turn convert into betas. 

Although it's a long road from experiments on lab mice to trials on humans, researchers believe that Pax4's effects make it potentially one of the most effective approaches yet to a virtual cure for type 1.

One question they will have to answer is whether the gene might induce an overproduction of beta cells. Too many beta cells are like too much of anything, not good. An overproduction of insulin could cause hypoglycemic episodes, as well as other complications.

The findings have been published in the August 7 issue of Cell.


Categories: Beta Cells, Diabetes, Diabetes, Insulin, Research, The Cure, Type 1 Issues



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Comments

Posted by rosiolady on 21 August 2009

In LADA-type diabetes at least, the body seems to do this quite a bit, "reinvent" beta cells, but the problem is that the autoimmune reaction that is really the basic problem kills them again. It would be more exciting to find news in understanding and stopping autoimmune reactions, in my opinion.

Posted by Anonymous on 24 August 2009

I agree with Rosiolady. I don't think there is any evidence that Type 1 "destroys" the body's capacity to make more Beta cells. The problem is that the new ones continue to be destroyed by the immune response. Dr. Faustman has demonstrated this, albeit in mice.

- C. Hanson

Posted by Anonymous on 11 April 2010

It appears that there are several organizations or laboratories that are working on this beta cell reproducing. I have read or rec'd news from several sources on this topic.

I think this news today and previously received over the past month, is marvelous as one step leads to another and some one will find the answer to help everyone with diabetes.

It has been too slowly coming but at least it is very nice to know that work is continuing to help T1s and perhaps other types of diabetes.

Thank you, thank you.... to them all!!


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