Until recently, scientists believed that the processes leading to beta cell death in people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes were similar. But a recent study from the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney, Australia, indicates that the cause of cell death in type 2s involves a form of cellular-level stress not found in type 1s.
Researchers found the existence of what they call “endoplasmic reticulum stress” in beta cells. The endoplasmic reticulum (ER) is the part of the beta cell that takes simple strings of amino acids and restructures them into complex three-dimensional proteins designed to perform specific tasks.
Insulin is one of those proteins. When the ER’s function is disrupted—and the reason why is not yet fully understood—the beta cell is stressed. That stress eventually leads to death.
But the Australian scientists also found that if they used a compound called PBA (sodium phenyl butyrate) as a “chemical chaperone” to help the insulin form properly, it relieved ER stress and slowed down beta cell death.
Because PBA has been approved by the FDA for use in other (nondiabetic) clinical trials, the Australians believe that their findings could lead to a fairly quick adoption of the chemical for the treatment of type 2. First, though, PBA would have to undergo tests on lab animals.