Researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai have discovered a novel combination of two classes of drugs that, together, cause the highest rate of proliferation ever observed in adult human beta cells- the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin- without harming most other cells in the body. The result is an important step toward a diabetes treatment that restores the body's ability to produce insulin.
The finding involved one type of drug that is known to cause beta cells to proliferate and another that is already in widespread use in people with diabetes . Together, they caused the cells to proliferate at a rate of 5 to 6 percent per day. The study was published today in Science Translational Medicine online.
We are very excited about this new drug combination because for the first time ever, we are able to see rates of human beta cell replication that are sufficient to replenish beta cell mass in humans with diabetes." Andrew Stewart, MD, Director of the Mount Sinai Diabetes, Obesity, and Metabolism Institute and lead author of the study
Diabetes occurs when there are not enough beta cells in the pancreas, or when those beta cells secrete too little insulin, the hormone required to keep blood sugar levels in the normal range. Approximately 30 million people in the United States have diabetes and nearly 50 to 80 million more are living with prediabetes (also called "metabolic syndrome"). Diabetes can lead to major medical complications: heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, blindness, and limb amputation.
In type 1 diabetes, the immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys beta cells. A deficiency of functioning beta cells is also an important contributor to type 2 diabetes, the most common type of diabetes. Thus, developing drugs that can increase the number of healthy beta cells is a major priority in diabetes research.
According to Dr. Stewart, none of the diabetes drugs currently on the market can induce beta cell regeneration in people with diabetes. In parallel with the Mount Sinai work, other researchers are studying pancreatic transplantation, beta cell transplantation, and stem cell replacement of beta cells for people with diabetes, but none of these approaches is in widespread use.
"This is a very exciting discovery in the field of diabetes and is a key next step in drug development for this disease," said Dennis S. Charney, MD, Anne and Joel Ehrenkranz Dean, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. "This important work truly holds promise for so many people."
In 2015, Dr. Stewart and his team published a paper in Nature Medicine that showed that harmine, a drug that inhibits the enzyme dual specificity tyrosine-regulated kinase 1A (DYRK1A), induced multiplication of adult human beta cells. In that study, his team also discovered that harmine treatment led to normal control of blood sugar and proliferation in human beta cells in diabetic mice whose beta cells had been replaced with small numbers of transplanted human beta cells. While this was a major advance, the proliferation rate was lower than needed to rapidly expand beta cells in people with diabetes. Related Stories
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