March 14, 2012

A foxy treatment for type 1 diabetes

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Researchers at Columbia University Medical Center have discovered a type of cell that has the ability to produce insulin and regulate glucose levels. The discovery was published in the journal  Nature Genetics.

The goal for treating type 1 diabetes has been to develop a way to generate cells that can release insulin in response to glucose levels. Current research with stem cells grown into insulin-producing cells have not been able to produce insulin but cannot do this in response to the blood glucose levels.

However the researchers at Columbia University Medical Center realized that switching off a gene know as Foxo1 has the ability to grow cells that produce insulin. In addition, the new intestinal cells are able to release insulin in response to sugar levels as they have glucose-sensing receptors.

The news gets better. Here’s why – as the gastrointestinal tract is partly protected from attack by the immune system, the location of the intestinal cells may block the diabetes from killing the new insulin-producing cells.

Domenico Accili, M.D. is a professor of medicine at Columbia University Medical Center. He commented on the findings of the study “Our results show that it could be possible to regrow insulin-producing cells in the GI tracts of our pediatric and adult patients.

Nobody would have predicted this result. Many things could have happened after we knocked out Foxo1. In the pancreas, when we knock out Foxo1, nothing happens. So why does something happen in the gut? Why don’t we get a cell that produces some other hormone? We don’t yet know.”

That’s food for thought. Islets found in the pancreas have a correlation to the gene that expresses serotonin. Insulin-producing cells “created” in the GI tract have a correlation to serotonin, as well. Serotonin is vital to regulating the brain’s response to hunger hormones. You are a sly one, Foxo1.

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