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JDRF News: Researchers Make Older Beta Cells Act Young Again

October 18, 2011

Hormone that Helps Regulate Insulin Production Could Lead to Better Treatments for Type 1 Diabetes

Researchers from the Salk Institute have identified molecular switches that regulate islet beta cell survival and insulin production. These findings could help lead to development of new diabetes drugs.

The JDRF-funded Salk researchers, led by Dr. Marc Montminy, focused on glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1), a hormone released by the gastrointestinal tract in response to glucose levels. The researchers studied the impact of GLP-1 on islet beta cell survival and function. Maintaining healthy functional beta cells and preventing their loss is a crucial area of diabetes research and represents a high priority for JDRF.

GLP-1 is known to enhance insulin secretion and promote pancreatic islet beta cell survival. GLP-1 activates insulin production through what the researchers refer to as “molecular switches” – i.e., a biochemical molecule that commands activity in the cell. In this case, it means that GLP-1 regulates switches that can adjust insulin production and encourage beta cell health and survival.

Building on previous studies, Dr. Montminy and his team identified a novel second set of switches regulating sustained effects of GLP-1 on islet beta cell function and survival. The observation of this prolonged biological process provides Dr. Montminy’s team insight into a new set of molecular switches to target diabetes drug discovery.

A drug called exenatide (also known as Byetta®), a synthetic version of a drug similar to GLP-1, is already being used for the treatment of type 2 diabetes. If scientists could develop new drugs or strategies to improve upon the survival effects of GLP-1, they might be able to help prevent beta cell loss and promote beta cell survival in people with type 1 diabetes.

JDRF hopes that this new discovery will help pave the way for future research on beta cell regeneration and replacement.

Read the complete Press Release on the JDRF News Room page.

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To learn more about the JDRF Dallas chapter, visit our JDRF Dallas website!

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