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Transforming Alpha Cells into New Diabetic Treatment

Reprogramming alpha cells into insulin producing beta cells can be used to treat diabetes….

Conversion of adult pancreatic alpha cells to beta cells might be the breakthrough researchers have been looking for. Researchers at University of Pennsylvania Medical School found a way to modify cell nuclear material (chromatin) to induce the expression of beta cell genes in alpha cells. "We treated human islet cells with a chemical that inhibits a protein that puts methyl chemical groups on histones, which — among many other effects — leads to removal of some histone modifications that affect gene expression," says Kaestner. "We then found a high frequency of alpha cells that expressed beta-cell markers, and even produced some insulin, after drug treatment. Diabetics regaining their insulin producing beta cell function could mean a lesser need for synthetic insulin and other diabetic medication. According to lead author Klaus H. Kastner, "This would be a win-win situation for diabetics; they would have more insulin-producing beta cells and there would be fewer glucagon-producing alpha cells."

Nuria C. Bramswig, Logan J. Everett, Jonathan Schug, Craig Dorrell, Chengyang Liu, Yanping Luo, Philip R. Streeter, Ali Naji, Markus Grompe, Klaus H. Kaestner. Epigenomic Plasticity Enables Human Pancreatic Alpha-to-Beta Cell Reprogramming. Journal of Clinical Investigation, 2013; doi: 10.1172/JCI66514