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
Monitoring the heart's mitochondria to predict cardiac arrest?
21.09.2017 | Boston Children's Hospital
Highly precise wiring in the Cerebral Cortex
21.09.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Hirnforschung
Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits, whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the so-called cerebral cortex of mammals, where among other things vision, thoughts or spatial orientation are being computed. Here the rules by which nerve cells are connected to each other are only partly understood. A team of scientists around Moritz Helmstaedter at the Frankfiurt Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Helene Schmidt (Humboldt University in Berlin) have now discovered a surprisingly precise nerve cell connectivity pattern in the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for orienting the individual animal or human in space.
The researchers report online in Nature (Schmidt et al., 2017. Axonal synapse sorting in medial entorhinal cortex, DOI: 10.1038/nature24005) that synapses in...
Whispering gallery mode (WGM) resonators are used to make tiny micro-lasers, sensors, switches, routers and other devices. These tiny structures rely on a...
Using ultrafast flashes of laser and x-ray radiation, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (Garching, Germany) took snapshots of the briefest electron motion inside a solid material to date. The electron motion lasted only 750 billionths of the billionth of a second before it fainted, setting a new record of human capability to capture ultrafast processes inside solids!
When x-rays shine onto solid materials or large molecules, an electron is pushed away from its original place near the nucleus of the atom, leaving a hole...
For the first time, physicists have successfully imaged spiral magnetic ordering in a multiferroic material. These materials are considered highly promising candidates for future data storage media. The researchers were able to prove their findings using unique quantum sensors that were developed at Basel University and that can analyze electromagnetic fields on the nanometer scale. The results – obtained by scientists from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics, the Swiss Nanoscience Institute, the University of Montpellier and several laboratories from University Paris-Saclay – were recently published in the journal Nature.
Multiferroics are materials that simultaneously react to electric and magnetic fields. These two properties are rarely found together, and their combined...
MBM ScienceBridge GmbH successfully negotiated a license agreement between University Medical Center Göttingen (UMG) and the biotech company Tissue Systems Holding GmbH about commercial use of a multi-well tissue plate for automated and reliable tissue engineering & drug testing.
MBM ScienceBridge GmbH successfully negotiated a license agreement between University Medical Center Göttingen (UMG) and the biotech company Tissue Systems...
19.09.2017 | Event News
12.09.2017 | Event News
06.09.2017 | Event News
21.09.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
21.09.2017 | Life Sciences
21.09.2017 | Health and Medicine