Researchers Convert Cells in the Pancreas to Insulin-Producing Beta Cells

JDRF-funded researchers have shown that cells in the pancreas that normally do not make insulin can be changed into cells that do—boosting the prospects of using regeneration as a treatment for type 1 diabetes. In a study in mice, they discovered that by driving the expression of a specific gene in non-insulin producing alpha cells, they could turn alpha cells into insulin-producing beta cells. The researchers targeted the gene because it is known to regulate growth, development, and other key cellular functions. They also discovered that the alpha cells that became new beta cells came from “progenitor” cells in the pancreas, and that the drop in the number of alpha cells triggered additional progenitor cells to replace them. Ultimately, the newly formed beta cells resulted in better glucose control and helped the mice survive. The study, co-funded by JDRF, was published in the journal Cell. Lead researchers were Patrick Collombat of the Max-Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry and Ahmed Mansouri of the University of Göttingen, both in Germany, working in collaboration with researchers at the JDRF Center for Beta Cell Therapy in Diabetes in Brussels.