Researchers are making rapid progress towards treating diabetes through beta cell regeneration, long considered a pipe dream.

Beta cells are cells found in the pancreas and make and secrete insulin. People suffering from type I or type II diabetes have diminished beta cells, leading to insufficient insulin secretion and hyperglycaemia.

The regeneration of beta cells has long been considered a tough nut to crack, but the last year has seen some significant inroads.

In December last year, researchers announced found the combination of two different classes of molecules were shown to induce proliferation in adult human beta cells at a rate of up to 8 per cent in in vitro and 2 per cent in in vivo transplant models, far exceeding rates from other experimental drugs.

Other research has identified novel signalling pathways and new uses for FDA-approved agents, including a calcium channel blocker, that promote beta-cell health and survival, as Endocrine Today outlines.

If further clinical testing bears similar results, it could vastly improve the quality of life for diabetes sufferers, says Dawn Belt Davis, associate professor in the division of endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism at the University of Wisconsin.

“The idea is that if we had the capacity to promote beta cell-proliferation in type 2, ideally even very early on in the pre-diabetes stage, we could slow down progression of the disease — potentially prevent or reverse it — and help patients avoid becoming insulin dependent. That is our goal.”

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