Failed hub cells in the pancreas may hold the clue to diabetes

by Barbara Hewitt on July 25, 2016

New research suggests that diabetes could be due to failure of beta cell hubs in the pancreas which  can no longer respond properly to glucose.

Scientists from the University of Birmingham in the UK have demonstrated the significant role of beta cell ‘hubs’ in the pancreas for the first time, suggesting that diabetes may due to the failure of a privileged few cells, rather than the behaviour of all cells.

pancreasDIABETESResearchers used optogenetic and photopharmacological targeting to precisely map the role of the cells required for the secretion of insulin and they believe that the findings could pave the way for therapies that target the ‘hubs’.

‘It has long been suspected that not all cells are equal when it comes to insulin secretion. These findings provide a revised blueprint for how our pancreatic islets function, whereby these hubs dictate the behaviour of other cells in response to glucose,’ said Dr David Hodson, from the University of Birmingham.

According to the NHS, there are currently 3.9 million people living with diabetes in the UK, with 90% of those affected having type 2 diabetes which occurs when the pancreas fails to produce enough insulin to function properly, meaning that glucose stays in the blood rather than being converted into energy.

Beta cells (ß cells) make up around 65% to 80% of the cells in the islets of the pancreas. Their primary function is to store and release insulin and, when functioning correctly, can respond quickly to fluctuations in blood glucose concentrations by secreting some of their stored insulin.

These research findings show that just 1% to 10% of beta cells control islet responses to glucose. ‘These specialised beta cells appear to serve as pacemakers for insulin secretion. We found that when their activity was silenced, islets were no longer able to properly respond to glucose, Hodson explained.

Prof Guy Rutter, who co-led the study at Imperial College London, added that the study is interesting as it suggests that failure of a handful of cells may lead to diabetes.

Studies were conducted on islet samples from both murine and human models. The team noted that, though the findings present a significant step forward in understanding the cell mechanisms, the experiments therefore may not be reflected in vivo, where blood flow direction and other molecule dynamics may influence the role of the hubs and insulin secretion.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please see your doctor before making any changes to your diabetes management plan.

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