Scientists generally think that decreased insulin production by the pancreas, a hallmark of type 2 diabetes, is due to the death of the organ’s beta cells. However, scientists at Columbia University Medical Center report that the beta cells do not die, but instead revert to a more basic cell type.
The researchers examined mice with type 2 diabetes and found that their lower functioning beta cells had changed form and reverted to an earlier state. Other researchers investigated genetically engineered mice that lacked a protein called FOXO1, which seems to “disappear” as beta cells stop producing insulin. When these mice were subjected to physically stressful conditions-pregnancy for the females and aging for the males– both genders developed high blood sugar, produced less insulin, and showed other signs of type 2.
Currently, doctors give type 2 patients medications that force beta cells to work harder, but these findings suggest that the beta cells might do better if the patients were given insulin, allowing the beta cells to rest.