Researchers activate insulin production in diabetic mice

January 9th, 2008 - 2:34 pm ICT by admin  

Washington, Jan 9 (ANI): Researchers at the University of Florida have conducted a study in mice using a naturally occurring protein called Pdx1, which could pave the way for safer treatments for type 1 diabetes.

The researchers coaxed liver and pancreatic cells within diabetic mice into churning out insulin by injecting the animals with Pdx1, opening up a new research avenue that someday could lead to potential therapy for type 1 diabetes.

The protein activates the genes controlling the development of the pancreas cells that make and release insulin to maintain safe levels of glucose in the body.

Pdx1 is so special because it possesses a unique amino acid sequence that acts as a sort of molecular passport, allowing it to pass freely into cells, enter the nucleus and activate insulin production and release, said Dr. Li-Jun Yang, an associate professor of pathology, immunology and laboratory medicine at UFs College of Medicine and lead author.

Previous studies have shown that inserting the Pdx1 gene into liver or pancreas cells can induce insulin production, but most gene therapy methods use viruses to introduce a piece of genetically engineered DNA into cells. Yang said that the drawback of such approaches is that researchers can never be certain the viruses are entirely harmless.

The researchers said that the idea behind using a protein therapy is that eventually a persons own cells could be reprogrammed to naturally produce the hormone, restoring the bodys ability to properly regulate blood sugar levels without having to use a potentially hazardous virus to slip corrective genes into the body or having to transplant pancreatic cells from someone else.

According to Yang, that could eliminate the adverse effects sometimes associated with gene therapy and eliminate the need for lifelong suppression of the immune system so transplanted cells are not rejected.

We sought to see what happens if we inject highly pure Pdx1 protein into (the abdomens of) diabetic animals, said Yang.

Amazingly, the treated mice did all the rest. Upon daily injection of this protein for 10 days into diabetic animals, their blood glucose levels became normalized within two weeks following the first injection. We repeated the experiment six times, and we got the reproducible result every time. What is remarkable is that the protein also promotes regeneration of insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, allowing the diabetic mice to become normal.

Yang said that now there is an evidence to believe normal blood sugar levels could be maintained for long periods, suggesting that an infrequent Pdx1 injection might someday replace daily insulin injections.

She said that more importantly, the reprogrammed and regenerated cells should make and release insulin, automatically maintaining safe blood sugar levels.

Dr. Joel Habener, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School said: What these findings teach is there is promise for a therapeutic approach to the treatment of diabetes. I think one of the really major breakthroughs here is the demonstration of principle that the naked protein in and of itself can get into cells and cause changes that are remarkable in a mouse model of type 1 diabetes, the regeneration of the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.

The new study is described online in the journal Diabetes. (ANI)

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