New type of insulin-producing cell discovered

New type of insulin-producing cell discovered

In people with type I diabetes, insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas die and are not replaced. Without these cells, the body loses the ability to control blood glucose. Scientists have now discovered a possible new route to regenerating beta cells, giving insight into the basic mechanisms behind healthy metabolism and diabetes.

The work is published in the journal Cell Metabolism.

In both mice and people, the islets contain beta cells, which detect glucose and secrete insulin, and other cell types including alpha cells that produce glucagon, a hormone that raises blood sugar. The opposite effects of insulin and glucagon enable the body to regulate blood sugars and store nutrients.

Type I diabetes is a disease with two parts. Firstly, the beta cells are killed by the body's own immune system, and then they fail to regenerate (or those that do are killed). An effective cure for type I diabetes would involve dealing with both problems.

Accepted dogma, senior author said, has been that new beta cells are generated by other beta cells dividing. But now by applying new techniques in microscopy, the team has discovered, scattered around the edges of the islets, another type of cell that looks a lot like an immature beta cell.

These new cells can make insulin, but don't have the receptors to detect glucose, so they can't function as a full beta cell. However, the team was able to observe alpha cells in the islet turn into immature beta cells and then mature into real beta cells.