The findings provide important insight into a possible regenerative therapy for type 1 diabetes. Researchers now have two potential cell targets for regeneration—progenitor cells and the alpha cells—as well as a critical gene and pathway that can be used to screen for drugs that target these cells.
The partnership between JDRF and GNF aims to deliver a succession of diabetes drug candidates to the clinic over the next four years, beginning with regeneration.
“The investigators independently identified pathways that regulate how beta cells regenerate and that explain why these cells stop replicating with age,” said Patricia Kilian, Ph.D., Director of JDRF’s Regeneration program. “This is exciting, since it suggests that controlling these pathways might enable us to restore the capability to regenerate insulin-producing cells to treat diabetes, even in older people. These findings provide new tools and insights for finding a means to overcome the loss of beta cells.”
The study is a step toward identifying small molecules that may prompt the expansion of beta cells, and it may help reveal the biological mechanisms regulating this process.
Clinical trials are showing that improvements in blood sugar control can be gained using combinations of drugs that work together to regenerate insulin-producing beta cells. Industry partnerships will be pivotal to pushing these achievements even further and bringing benefits to type 1 patients.
If these findings in mice hold true for humans, the newfound progenitor cells may represent “an obvious target for therapeutic regeneration of beta cells in diabetes,” according to the researchers.
Now that researchers have identified a protein that inhibits beta cell expansion, they can work to identify interventions that reverse this effect.