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Gene That Converts Alpha Cells To Beta Cells Discovered In Mice

Posted Aug 23 2009 10:56pm
Type 1 diabetics are diabetic because the majority of their pancreatic beta cells (that produce insulin) have been destroyed. Pancreatic alpha cells produce glucagon, a hormone that stimulates glucose release from the liver.

Pax4, when "forced on" mouse alpha cells, leads to a conversion of the alpha cells to cells resembling beta cells.

By "switching on" Pax4 in mice that had type 1 diabetes, scientists noted an eight-fold increase in their beta cells. As Pax4 converts alpha cells into beta cells, the body senses the loss of alphas and makes replacements. The alphas in turn convert into betas.

Although it's a long road from experiments on lab mice to trials on humans, researchers believe that Pax4's effects make it potentially one of the most effective approaches yet to a virtual cure for type 1.

One question they will have to answer is whether the gene might induce an overproduction of beta cells. Too many beta cells are like too much of anything, not good. An overproduction of insulin could cause hypoglycemic episodes, as well as other complications.

The findings were published in the journal Cell.

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