Up until puberty, the pancreas is more adaptable and possesses a greater potential for self-healing than had previously been assumed. This is the conclusion reached by a study with mice funded through the National Research Programme "Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine" (NRP 63).
Approximately 40,000 persons in Switzerland suffer from type-1 diabetes. The illness is caused by the loss of so-called pancreatic beta cells, the cells that produce the hormone insulin, which is essential for regulating the use of sugar in the body.
Since beta cells do not regenerate, scientists have traditionally assumed that the loss of these cells is irreversible; indeed, diabetic patients require insulin injections for life.
Previously unknown mechanism
Four years ago, the research team of Pedro Herrera (University of Geneva) first cast doubt on this assumption when they demonstrated that a few alpha cells in the pancreas of genetically modified diabetic mice changed into beta cells.
Alpha cells normally produce the blood sugar-raising hormone glucagon, but in diabetic mice they started producing insulin instead. Herrera's team has now made a second discovery, which has just been published in the journal "Nature" (*): in prepubescent mice the pancreas is capable of compensating the loss of insulin-producing beta cells. "This is achieved by a mechanism unknown until now," says Herrera.
The process involves the reversion of delta cells (which produce somatostatin, another pancreatic hormone) to a precursor-like cell state, with proliferation and later reconstitution of the populations of beta and delta cells.
In contrast to the conversion of alpha cells, which only concerns a small fraction of the alpha cell population, the new mechanism involving delta cell fate change is a more efficient way of offsetting the loss of beta cells and thus diabetes recovery. Yet while alpha cells can reprogram into insulin production also in old mice, the ability of delta cells to do so is limited and does not extend beyond puberty.
Human pancreas can regenerate too
Although Herrera's group has investigated the versatility of pancreatic cells in mice, several observations in diabetic patients suggest that the human pancreas is capable of transformation too. "The new mechanism shows that the pancreas is much more plastic and – at least during childhood – possesses a much greater potential for self-healing than we had previously assumed," says Herrera.
“There is still a long way to go before diabetes patients might be able to benefit from these findings, but the discovery that delta cells have a high degree of plasticity points to a hitherto unsuspected option for therapeutic intervention.”
(*) S. Chera, D. Baronnier, L. Ghila, V. Cigliola, J. N. Jensen, G. Gu, K. Furuyama, F. Thorel, F. M. Gribble, F. Reimann and P. L. Herrera (2014). Diabetes Recovery By Age-Dependent Conversion of Pancreatic Delta-Cells Into Insulin Producers. Nature online: doi: 10.1038/nature13633
(Journalists can obtain a pdf file from the SNSF by writing to: firstname.lastname@example.org)
National Research Programme
"Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine" (NRP 63)
The aim of NRP 63 is to obtain basic information about the nature, functioning and convertibility of stem cells. NRP 63 also hopes to strengthen stem cell research in Switzerland. It was launched in 2010 and comprises 12 projects. NRP 63 has a budget of CHF 10 million and is scheduled to end next year.
Prof Pedro L. Herrera
Department of Genetic Medicine and Development
Faculty of Medicine, University of Geneva
Rue Michel-Servet 1
Phone: +41 22 379 52 25
Media - Abteilung Kommunikation | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft
Oxygen can wake up dormant bacteria for antibiotic attacks
08.12.2016 | Penn State
NTU scientists build new ultrasound device using 3-D printing technology
07.12.2016 | Nanyang Technological University
In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.
Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...
Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.
The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
08.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy
08.12.2016 | Health and Medicine
08.12.2016 | Life Sciences