Diabetes breakthrough? Hormone discovered that holds hope for treatment

Is a diabetes cure on the way?

Possibly, thanks to researchers at Harvard who recently discovered a naturally occuring hormone in mice that helps increase insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. The hormone, called betatrophin, caused the rodents to pump out these precious cells at about 30 times the normal rate - but only when the body needs them, which would be key for natural insulin regulation in diabetics.

Doug Melton, Harvard Stem Cell Institute co-director, and postdoctoral fellow Peng Yi led the research, noting that although the findings are encouraging, much work still needs to be done before any kind of treatment could be possible for humans.

“If this could be used in people,” Melton said in an article Harvard's website, “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.”

The hormone therapy would, in essence, help type 2 diabetics make more of their own insulin-producing cells, which would slow or stop the progression of the disease. Betatrophin might also be an option for type 1 diabetics, carrying the potential to halt the autoimmune disorder at first diagnosis.

“At a time of great uncertainty for federal research funding, the discovery of betatrophin is a reminder of the importance of basic research,” said Harvard Provost Alan Garber."

Melton says that betatrophin could be in human clinical trials within the next three to five years. Melton and YI are collaborating with Evotec, a German biotech firm, to further the research. More information about their work can be found in the journal Cell.

Source: Harvard Gazette

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