Oftentimes, scientists and medical experts need to look at the most minute details in order to understand the human body and the diseases that affect it. And since technology in the field is advancing all the time, they are able to do it to a greater degree.
In that vein, new research on how the body produces insulin may allow future therapies to evolve that better treat diabetes. Dr. Markus Grompe, who is best known for his work with stem cells, has found that there are at least four subtypes of insulin-producing beta cells in humans. It is the first study of its kind that has identified multiple types of such cells, and the information could mean a lot.
“Further understanding of cell characteristics could be the key to uncovering new treatment options, as well as the reason why some people are diabetic and others are not,” explained Grompe.
Identifying new cell types
Diabetes currently affects over 29 million people in the U.S. alone, and it occurs when a person’s insulin-producing beta cells are disrupted or cease to function. Without these cells doing their job, a person loses their ability to regulate their blood sugar levels, which can result in extreme fatigue, weight loss, vision ailments, pain in the extremities, and nerve damage, to name a few.
Up until this point, the medical community had thought that only one type of beta cell existed, but Grompe and his colleagues were able to isolate beta cells and classify three additional types.
Additionally, they found that there are hundreds of genes that differently express cell types, which leads to varying production of insulin in the body. The differences between these genes and cells could explain the differences between the types of diabetes and why certain people are susceptible to them.
“Some of the cells are better at releasing insulin than others, whereas others may regenerate quicker. Therefore, it is possible that people with different percentages of the subtypes are more prone to diabetes,” Grompe explains.
The next step for the researchers will be to attempt to understand how different cell subtypes are created so that they can create an approach for medical treatment. The full study has been published in the journal Nature Communications.