beta cells

Researchers closer to new treatment for type 1 diabetes

by Barbara Hewitt on December 24, 2018

Scientists in the United States have taken an important step forwards in terms of creating a new treatment for type 1 diabetes.

Researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York have discovered a novel combination of two classes of drugs that induces the highest rate of proliferation ever observed in adult human beta cells which produce insulin in the pancreas.

Scientists Lab

(By Gorodenkoff/Shutterstock.com)

They say it is an important step toward a diabetes treatment that restores the body’s ability to produce insulin. Scientists believe that in order to achieve a cure for type 1 diabetes so that those with the condition become insulin independent, the first step is finding ways to increase the numbers of functional beta cells is necessary.

The work means that now they are at a stage when they can increase the rates of human beta cell reproduction to levels that were previously thought to be impossible. It takes researchers closer to finding therapies that can restore insulin production in people with the disease, and ultimately produce a cure.

The findings involved one drug that inhibits the enzyme dual specificity tyrosine-regulated kinase 1A (DYRK1A) and another that inhibits transforming growth factor beta superfamily members (TGFßSF). Together, they caused the cells to proliferate at a rate of 5% to 8% per day.

‘We are very excited about this new observation because for the first time, we are able to see rates of human cell beta cell replication that are sufficient to replenish beta cell mass in human beings,’ said Andrew Stewart, director of the Mount Sinai Diabetes, Obesity, and Metabolism Institute and lead author of the study.

‘We have discovered a drug combination that makes beta cells regenerate at rates that are suitable for treatment. The next big hurdle is figuring out how to deliver them directly to the pancreas,’ he explained, adding that none of the diabetes drugs currently on the market can induce beta cell regeneration in people with diabetes.

In parallel with the Mount Sinai work, other researchers are studying pancreatic transplantation, beta cell transplantation, and stem cell replacement of beta cells for people with diabetes, but none of these approaches is in widespread use.

Loss of insulin producing beta cells has long been recognized as a cause of type 1 diabetes, in which the immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys beta cells. In recent years, researchers have concluded that a deficiency of functioning beta cells is also an important contributor to type 2 diabetes, the most common type that occurs in adults.

Thus, developing drugs that can increase the number of healthy beta cells is a major priority in diabetes research.

Stewart and his team used an insulinoma genetic recipe they had previously developed, which suggested that a combination of the two classes of drugs would be able to synergistically increase beta cell regeneration. This proved to be true. However, this new drug combination is not without its hurdles.

‘Since these drugs have effects on other organs in the body, we now need to develop methods to deliver these drugs specifically to the beta cell in humans. We have the packages to deliver, but now we need a courier system to deliver them to the exact beta cell address,’ Stewart pointed out.

Beta cell regeneration is a ‘holy grail’ for the treatment of diabetes, according to Peng Wang, associate professor of Medicine (Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Blood Disease) at Mount Sinai and first author on the study.

‘We are excited to finally have drugs that can induce beta cell proliferation at rates that are likely to be effective in people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes,’ Wang side.

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