Scientists may be getting close to discovering a way that bodies will heal themselves of diabetes in the future.
How can bodies heal themselves?
How? It’s all about the cells. Glucagon-producing cells in the pancreas can change roles based on what the cells around them are doing. So cells that weren’t producing insulin may be able to begin producing it.
Types of cells in the pancreas
There are three different types of cells in the pancreas:
- Alpha-cells that make glucagon
- Beta-cells that make insulin
- Delta-cells that regulate alpha- and beta-cells
Beta-cells are the cells that are damaged and don’t work properly in diabetes.
Researchers at the University of Bergen in Norway have found that these Alpha-cells can change their role to become beta-cells and make insulin due to messages from the cells around them. Their study was published in Nature Cell Biology.
In some cases, such as stress, cells can take on new roles to compensate for other cells that have died. Scientists are still trying to figure out exactly when and how this happens.
Cells change roles
In this study, around two percent of the alpha-cells surrounding beta-cells that had died changed their role. This was enough to get the researchers excited about possibilities for the future. Scientists in the study increased the number of cells that made insulin to five percent using a compound that influenced the cells signaling to one another. The study was done in mice.
Study author Dr. Luiza Ghila said, “If we gain more knowledge about the mechanisms behind cell flexibility, then we could possibly […] control the process and change more cells’ identities so that more insulin can be produced.”
This new discovery of the cells’ ability to change roles may change treatment for other diseases as well, such as brain cell damage in Alzheimer’s and cell damage in heart attacks.