People develop diabetes when they do not have enough pancreatic beta cells to produce the insulin necessary to regulate blood sugar levels. Around 171 million people worldwide suffer from diabetes; there is no cure and the treatment, insulin therapy, is prone to complications.
Anil Bhushan and co-workers, University of California, Los Angeles, USA, have discovered the underlying mechanism that could convert other cell types into insulin-producing beta cells. Deletion of Dnmt1, the enzyme responsible for DNA methylation, from beta cells converts them into glucagon-secreting alpha cells in the pancreas. The team believes that if beta cells can be converted into alpha cells, there may be an analogous mechanism that can produce beta cells.
Replenishing lost beta cells could serve as a permanent solution, both for those who have lost such cells due to an immune assault (Type 1 diabetes) and those who acquire diabetes later in life due to insulin resistance (Type 2).
- Pancreatic β Cell Identity Is Maintained by DNA Methylation-Mediated Repression of ArxRemoving the Brakes on Cell Identity
S. Dhawan, S. Georgia, S. Tschen, G. Fan, A. Bhushan,
Developmental Cell 2011, 20(4), 419-429.