A team of researchers has found potential source of insulin-producing cells in the adult human pancreas, offering new hope to diabetics.
Cells that express neurogenin 3 (NGN3) may one day be harnessed to create a plentiful supply of insulin-producing beta cells for the treatment of diabetes, the University of South Florida study suggests.
NGN3 is the master gene driving development of the human endocrine pancreas, including the beta cells that make and secrete the hormone insulin, which helps control blood sugar levels. In type 1, or juvenile, diabetes, insulin-producing beta cells are destroyed by the person’s immune system, and patients need insulin injections to survive. Patients with the more common type 2 diabetes, referred to as adult-onset diabetes, produce insulin but their bodies cannot use it properly, and they often require extra insulin.
In the study, researchers from the Children’s Research Institute, USF Health Morsani College of Medicine; Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine; and the University of Illinois at Chicago, detected the NGN3 protein in histologically normal pancreatic biopsies from two sources-cadavers and patients requiring biopsy for diagnostic purposes.
NGN3 expression in the adult pancreas was unexpected, because it cannot be detected in the adult rodent pancreas – only during fetal development, said principal investigator Michael Shamblott.
Now that researchers know these NGN3 cells are a normal part of adult human pancreas biology, they can learn to increase them and to coax them towards becoming differentiated pancreatic endocrine cells by using specific drugs, Shamblott noted, adding that the goal is to regenerate functional beta cells that can cure diabetes.
The study is published in the journal PLOS ONE.