New discovery could lead to breakthrough in treating diabetes

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Researchers say cells can be manipulated to create insulin for the body

A recent study suggests that consumers who are diabetic may one day be able to go through life without actively having to manage their blood sugar with medication.

Experts at the University of Bergen say they have discovered a way for cells to alter their “identities” so that healthy cells can more easily make up for lack of production from damaged insulin cells. Researcher Luiza Ghila says all that is required is “some start-up help” to make it happen.

“We are possibly facing the start of a totally new form of treatment for diabetes, where the body can produce its own insulin,” Ghila said.

Changing cell identity

The researchers made the discovery while analyzing cells in the pancreas, the organ where cells that regulate blood sugar are produced. They found that approximately two percent of cells in the pancreas were able to change their identity.

What’s more, they found that the process of changing a cell’s identity can be dictated by manipulating signals and activity in surrounding cells. The team was successfully able to increase the number of cells that could change their identities to five percent in animal models.

“If we gain more knowledge about the mechanisms behind this cell flexibility, then we could possibly be able to control the process and change more cells’ identities so that more insulin can be produced,” said Ghila.

Could be groundbreaking for other diseases

While the finding has huge implications for consumers suffering from diabetes, the researchers say that their work could apply to other conditions as well.

“The cells’ ability to change identity and function may be a decisive discovery in treating other diseases caused by cell death, such as Alzheimer’s disease and cellular damage due to heart attacks,” said Ghila.

The full study has been published in the journal Nature Cell Biology.

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