Monday, March 24, 2008

Elusive Pancreatic Progenitor Cells Found in Mice

Type 1 Diabetes occurs when the immune system attacks the "Beta" cells in the Pancreas that create insulin, a hormone that allows glucose to be carried to the rest of the body by the blood cells.

Without this hormone, the body "thinks" it isn't getting enough glucose even though it may exist in great, and even dangerous levels in the blood stream.

In the case of our youngest daughter, JBird, she was always hungry and thirsty despite eating and drinking more than she normally had done beforehand. When she started getting up in the middle of the night to go the the bathroom and then downstairs to fill her water jug again, we new something was up. That was June 28th, 2006.

The most promising cure for Type 1 Diabetes seems to center around two issues: 1) Re-train the body's immune system to leave the Beta cells alone and 2) somehow promote the regeneration of lost Beta cells so that the body can produce enough insulin on its own again.

It is widely believed that in many patients, if the immune system is corrected somehow, that the beta cells in the pancreas may regenerate spontaneously.

In the mean time, Type 1 Diabetics monitor their blood and administer insulin via injection or insulin pump several times daily.

"One of the most interesting characteristics of these [adult] progenitor cells is that they are almost indistinguishable from embryonic progenitor cells," said Harry Heimberg at the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation Center at Vrije Universiteit Brussel in Belgium and the Beta Cell Biology Consortium. "In terms of their structure and gene expression, there are no major differences. They look and behave just like embryonic beta cell progenitors."

"We at JDRF believe that this new research provides novel insights that may provide therapeutic potential to regenerate beta cells in type 1 diabetes," said Patricia Kilian, Regeneration Program Director at JDRF.

Previous studies have suggested the existence of a beta cell progenitor in the pancreas after birth, but the identification and characterization of the progenitor cell has not been fully achieved. Other studies showing that replication of adult beta cells can account for beta cell turnover and expansion of beta cells under normal physiologic conditions and called into question the role or existence of a progenitor cell in regeneration. "Most people gave up looking because the cells are so few and so hard to activate," added Heimberg.

In the new study, Heimberg's team tied off a duct that drains digestive enzymes from the pancreas, a manipulation that led to a doubling of beta cell mass in the injured part of the pancreas within two weeks. The animals' pancreases also began producing more insulin, evidence that the new beta cells were fully functional.

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