Can’t make insulin? That might not be a problem, according to Dr. Roger Unger, the lead researcher on a mouse study out of UT Southwestern Medical Center. As Dr. Unger stated in a press release, his findings “suggest that if there is no glucagon, it doesn’t matter if you don’t have insulin….In adulthood, at least with respect to glucose metabolism, the role of insulin is to control glucagon. And if you don’t have glucagon, then you don’t need insulin…If diabetes is defined as restoration of glucose homeostasis to normal, then this treatment can perhaps be considered very close to a ‘cure.’ “
It’s pretty surprising, but it worked in mice that had been genetically altered to lack working glucagon receptors. When Dr. Unger gave an oral glucose tolerance test to the mice after their insulin-producing beta cells had been destroyed, they responded normally. Thus, they did not develop diabetes despite the fact that they had neither insulin nor glucagon action.
Glucagon is generally thought to cause the liver to release sugar into the bloodstream when it’s needed. Blood sugar is then ushered into the cells by insulin. Exactly how Dr. Unger’s mice get glucose from their bloodstream into their cells without insulin is not clear. But it is apparent that the endocrine system may be even more complex than we thought and that ongoing research is always warranted.
Dr. Unger’s study appears online and in the February issue of Diabetes.