Aussie discovery could improve diabetes treatments

Thursday, 15 April 2021

Australian researchers from Monash University have made a discovery that could lead to better treatments for type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

The team recently uncovered the barrier to beta-cell regeneration.

Their discovery could pave the way for improved treatments for diabetes and diseases that involve organ and tissue damage.

Cell regeneration

The human body doesn’t repair itself very well.

The liver is the only organ that can regenerate efficiently. This means we have limited capacity to regenerate new cells or tissue after birth as genes are switched off.

DNA Methylation

This process happens through DNA methylation. A biological process where chemicals (methyl groups) are written on DNA and modify the way genes function.

This modification silences the genes of progenitor cells (a type of stem cell) in the body.

This process is the reason the pancreas loses the ability to generate insulin producing beta-cells.

About the study

Using mouse models, the study led by Professor Sam El-Osta, found that the DNA methylation content of two key developmental genes Ngn3 and Sox 11 were diminished, effectively making them ‘repair’ dormant.

However, through demethylation, progenitor cells can be reawakened, restoring their capacity to become new insulin producing beta cells paving the way towards improved treatments for type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

Surprising results

The study has unveiled some surprising results. The discovery that DNA methylation is a barrier to adult beta-cell regeneration will assist scientists restore beta-cell function in the pancreas.”

Currently, replacing the damaged beta-cell mass in people living with diabetes consists of whole pancreas or islets transplantation. Although efficient, these therapies face the shortage of organ donors together with the associated side effects of immunosuppressive drugs.

New diabetes treatments

Current research focuses on the replacement of the lost beta-cells in people living with diabetes using several approaches and cell sources. However, critical to exploiting the potential of these approaches, is understanding how tissue and cellular processes are controlled during development.

Co-first author on the study, Dr Keith Al-Hasani said “This is a novel and significant finding that will allow us to use these “sleeping beauties” (stem cell like cells) to wake up and become insulin cells to cure diabetes.”

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