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Diabetic Pancreas Cells Recover

Pancreases of patients with type 1 diabetes can regain the ability to produce insulin when cells are given the chance to recover outside the body, researchers have demonstrated.

Professor Knut Dahl-Jørgensen and doctoral student Lars Krogvold at the University of Oslo are leading a research project (DiViD) to try to determine, among other things, if a virus in the pancreas causes type 1diabetes.

Already they have discovered viruses in hormone-producing cells in the pancreas, the islets of Langerhans. But they also made some other discoveries.

“We found that the insulin-producing cells still have the ability to produce insulin when they are stimulated in the lab,” Krogvold said. “But what’s new is our additional discovery that the cells increased their ability to produce insulin after a few days outside the body. Indeed, some became roughly as good at making insulin as cells from people without diabetes,” he added.

The aim of the study was to determine whether beta cells still have the ability to produce insulin after the patient has been diagnosed. The researchers bathed the cells in a solution through which sugar was passed. They then measured the insulin content of this solution.

“The really exciting thing here is that insulin production increases when the cells are removed from the body and placed in an environment that is not diabetes-inducing. That your cells produce a little insulin the day after you have been diagnosed with diabetes is not unusual,” said Krogvold. “Previous work has shown that you do not immediately lose your ability to produce insulin when you are first diagnosed with type 1 diabetes,

“What surprised us was that the cells increased their ability to produce insulin over time and that after a few days the level was approaching normal.”

The findings could mean that insulin production can be partially restored if the disease process can be stopped. “The potential for insulin production is greater than previously thought,” continued Krogvold. “The risk of developing health problems later on is lower for those who manage to maintain a certain level of insulin production. Less supplementary insulin means that you will be better off as a patient.”

Source: University of Oslo