Pancreas capable of `regenerating` insulin-producing cells perpetually

Updated: Jun 28, 2013, 15:46 PM IST

Washington: Researchers have shown that mice`s pancreas have cells, which are capable of being converted into insulin-producing beta cells.

They also demonstrated that all pancreatic beta cells can be regenerated several times and that chemically-induced diabetes in mice can thus be "treated" repeatedly.

Type I diabetes, characterised by the selective loss of pancreatic, insulin-producing beta cells, is a condition that affects more than 30 million people worldwide.

In 2009, researchers at the Valrose Biology Institute (Inserm/University Nice Sophia Antipolis) managed to convert glucagon-producing a cells into beta cells in young mice.

Today, thanks to the use of transgenic mice, they report the mechanisms resulting in this exchange of cell identity and specifically showed that pancreatic ductal cells can be continuously mobilised and literally transformed into a and subsequently into beta cells, a process that works at any age.

Such transformation is obtained through the forced activation of the Pax4 gene in the a cells of the pancreas. The resulting cascade of events causes the generation of brand-new beta cells, thanks to the reactivation of development genes.

Throughout this process, cells are regenerated and gradually adopt the profile of beta cells. This means that the pancreas has a virtually inexhaustible source of cells capable of replacing the beta cells.

Patrick Collombat, Inserm research director and principal author of the study, said that by artificially inducing type I diabetes in mice, they also show that all the pancreatic beta cells can be regenerated at least three times using this mechanism.

Diabetes, induced in this way, in the mouse, can be literally "treated" multiple times thanks to the new stock of functional, insulin-producing beta cells.

This work has been published online in the Developmental Cell journal.