Faulty ‘dimmer’ switch in diabetes can be restored

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Published: September 23, 2015 10:05:04 PM

In a potentially "game-changing" study, researchers have identified a new molecular pathway that manages the amount of insulin produced by the pancreatic cells and appears to be lost in type 2 diabetes.

In a potentially “game-changing” study, researchers have identified a new molecular pathway that manages the amount of insulin produced by the pancreatic cells and appears to be lost in type 2 diabetes.

The particular pathway acts essentially as a ‘dimmer’ switch that adjusts how much insulin is secreted when blood sugar increases.

The dimmer appears to be lost in type 2 diabetes but can be restored and ‘turned back on’, according to the researchers.

In the study, the researchers examined pancreatic islet cells from 99 human organ donors and identified the molecular pathway.

The dimmer appears to be lost in type 2 diabetes but can be restored and ‘turned back on’ – reviving proper control of insulin secretion from islet cells of people with type 2 diabetes, according to senior author Patrick MacDonald, an associate professor at the University of Alberta in Canada.

The discovery is a potential game-changer in type 2 diabetes research, leading to a new way of thinking about the disease and its future treatment, researchers said.

“Understanding the islet cells in the pancreas that make insulin, how they work – and how they can fail – could lead to new ways to treat the disease, delaying or even preventing diabetes,” said MacDonald.

MacDonald believes the key to his latest research has been access to the Alberta Diabetes Institute’s IsletCore.

The biobank collects pancreatic islets from organ donors – with and without diabetes – for diabetes research in Edmonton and across North America.

“Without access to this critical tissue through the Alberta Diabetes Institute IsletCore and the generosity of organ donors and their families, we would not have been able to carry out this study,” said MacDonald.

“If we want to learn about diabetes, and how to treat and prevent it, studying the insulin-producing cells from donors with diabetes is a powerful way to do it,” he said.

The ability to restore and fix the dimmer switch in islet cells may have been proven on a molecular level, but finding a way to translate those findings into clinical use could yet take decades, said MacDonald.

The study was published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

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