Boosting beta cells to treat type 2 diabetes

Researchers at Weill Cornell Medicine have uncovered a novel route to stimulate the growth of healthy insulin-producing pancreatic beta cells in a mouse model of diabetes. The findings hold promise for future therapeutics that will improve the lives of individuals with type 2 diabetes—a condition that affects more than half a billion people worldwide. 

The study, published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, demonstrated that activating a pathway to promote cell division not only expanded the population of insulin-producing cells, but surprisingly, it also enhanced the cells’ function. “That’s reassuring because there is a long-standing belief in the field that proliferation can lead to ‘de-differentiation’ and a loss of cell function,” said study senior author Dr. Laura Alonso, chief of the division of endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism at Weill Cornell Medicine. “Our result flies in the face of that dogma and suggests if we can find a way to trigger replication of the beta cells in the body, we won’t impair their ability to produce and secrete insulin.” 

While the treatment they used to increase the beta cell population in mice is not itself a viable therapeutic target because its ability to stimulate proliferation could increase the risk of cancer, Dr. Alonso is confident that probing the molecular pathways that govern beta cell division and function could someday lead to a clinical breakthrough. 

Source: Weill Cornell Medical College, Medical Xpress, November 8, 2023; see source article