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New diabetes treatment works with 'reprogrammed' cells

Washington: A team of American scientists has successfully reprogrammed insulin-producing cells in an effort to discover a new way to fight diabetes.

For years, researchers have been searching, with limited success, for a way to treat diabetics by reactivating their insulin-producing beta cells.

Managing diabetes better. AFP

Managing diabetes better. AFP

The "reprogramming" of related alpha cells into beta cells may one day offer a novel and complementary approach for treating type 2 diabetes.

Treating human and mouse cells with compounds that modify cell nuclear material called chromatin induced the expression of beta cell genes in alpha cells, according to a new study that appears online in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

"This would be a win-win situation for diabetics -- they would have more insulin-producing beta cells and there would be fewer glucagon-producing alpha cells," says lead author Klaus H Kaestner, professor of Genetics and member of the Institute of Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania.

Type 2 diabetics not only lack insulin, but they also produce too much glucagon (a hormone that raises blood glucose levels), reports Science Daily.

"We treated human islet cells with a chemical that inhibits a protein that puts methyl chemical groups on histones, which—among many other effects—leads to removal of some histone modifications that affect gene expression," says Kaestner.

"We then found a high frequency of alpha cells that expressed beta-cell markers, and even produced some insulin, after drug treatment," he says.

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