A hormone, called betatrophin, causes mice to produce
insulin-secreting pancreatic beta cells at up to 30 times the normal rate and could be used as a diabetes treatment. But
it only produces insulin when the body needs it, according to the team at the
Harvard Stem Cell Institute.
The researchers said their findings offer the potential for
the natural regulation of insulin and a significant reduction in
diabetes-related complications such as blindness and limb amputation. The study is published in the the
More work needed for
treatment to work
Although the hormone shows promise in lab mice, much more
work is needed before it could be considered as a treatment for diabetes in
humans, the researchers noted. Results obtained in animal experiments often
aren't attainable in trials with humans.
"If this could be used in people, it could eventually
mean that instead of taking insulin injections three times a day, you might
take an injection of this hormone once a week or once a month, or in the best
case maybe even once a year," Doug Melton, co-director of the institute
and co-chair of Harvard University's department of stem cell and regenerative
biology, said in a university news release.
Miilions living with
About 26 million Americans have type 2 diabetes, which
causes people to slowly lose beta cells and the ability to produce sufficient
amounts of insulin.
"Our idea here is relatively simple," Melton said.
"We would provide this hormone, the type 2 diabetic will make more of
their own insulin-producing cells, and this will slow down, if not stop, the
progression of their diabetes. I've never seen any treatment that causes such
an enormous leap in beta cell replication."
Along with its potential for treating type 2 diabetes,
betatrophin might also have a role in treating type 1 diabetes, Melton said.