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Hope For Type 1 Diabetes Patients

November 26, 2008

Researchers identified a new source of insulin-producing cells. Results of a new study show cells in the pancreas that produce insulin — called beta cells — can form after birth or after injury from another, unrelated kind of cell. The unrelated cells, called pancreatic duct cells, can differentiate into the insulin-producing cells.

The finding contradicts widely-cited research published in 2004 that suggested new beta cells could only come about through the division of existing beta cells.

“This means that there is a population of pancreatic cells that can be stimulated, either within the body or outside the body, to become new beta cells, the cells that are lacking in diabetes,” lead researcher Susan Bonner-Weir, Ph.D., a senior investigator in the Section on Islet Transplantation and Cell Biology at the Joslin Diabetes Center and Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.

In type 1 diabetes, insulin-producing beta cells are destroyed by the immune system, leading the pancreas to produce little or no insulin. The discovery could lead to a new type of replacement therapy for type 1 diabetes patients.

Although transplantation of beta cells from human donors has helped patients with type 1 diabetes get off insulin treatment, the results are only successful for a few years.

SOURCE: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, November 2008

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