London: Insulin, which is normally released from the beta cells of the pancreas, can protect the cells of the pancreas from acute pancreatitis - a disease for which there is currently no treatment, says a study.
Acute pancreatitis results in severe abdominal pain, vomiting and systemic inflammation.
"Insulin works by restoring the energy levels of pancreatic acinar cells, which fuels the calcium pumps on the membrane of these cells,” said Jason Bruce from University of Manchester in Britain.
“These calcium pumps help to restore cellular calcium and prevent the catastrophic cell death and autodigestion of the pancreas," Bruce added.
When alcohol and fat accumulate inside pancreatic acinar cells - the cells that secrete digestive enzymes into the gut - the resulting small molecules called metabolites deplete cellular energy levels and increase cellular calcium.
This causes uncontrolled and catastrophic cell death and the cells burst, releasing their toxic enzymes which digest the pancreas and surrounding tissue.
Insulin prevents these toxic effects of alcohol and fatty acid metabolites, the findings showed.
The researchers decided to look at insulin because it has been used successfully to treat obese pancreatitis patients by reducing fatty acids in the blood.
Diabetes makes pancreatitis worse and diabetics are at higher risk of developing pancreatitis and multiple organ failure.
The study provides the first evidence that insulin directly protects the acinar cells, which is where the disease is initiated.
The study appeared in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.