Researchers funded by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation have found two chemical compounds that can trigger the growth of insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. The discovery could become the basis for medicines designed to regenerate the pancreas in people with type 1 diabetes.
The JDRF-sponsored team at the Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation screened a vast library of chemical compounds-more than 850,000-to see what effects they might have on triggering the production of new beta cells lines derived from mice.
The researchers found 80 compounds that merited further investigation and eventually focused on two. One compound promotes beta cell replication by means of a biological pathway that is critical to beta cell development in embryos. The other uses an ion channel, which regulates the flow of ions across cell membranes, to induce beta cell proliferation.
The next step will be to conduct studies on animals to see if the compounds’ effects can be replicated in a whole organism. If that line of research pans out, the hope is to test the compounds on humans.
The Novartis study continues the JDRF’s focus on research into making the body re-grow beta cells that have been killed by the autoimmune effects of type 1 diabetes. They are considering a two-pronged approach of having the body copy existing beta cells that are still functional while the pancreas is simultaneously induced to produce entirely new ones.
The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.