Friday, June 9, 2017

Can Beta Cells Be Restored to Normal Function?

Is type 2 diabetes caused, in part, by beta cells that are dedifferentiated?

I say "in part" because type 2 is a complex disease and many things may contribute a little to its cause. Today more than 80 genes or parts of genes have been associated with type 2 risk. Each one may contribute only a little to that risk, but the additive effect of all those small effects can finally add up to a large effect that precipitates full-blown diabetes.

A recent article suggests that type 2 diabetes results in dedifferentiated beta cells that are like immature cells before they differentiate into their mature insulin-producing form. (You can see the full text of the article here.) Because they are immature, they don't produce insulin, and hence the number of insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas is reduced and you have difficulty producing enough to keep blood glucose levels from rising, especially with a large carbohydrate load.

Most interesting, however, is that the researchers at the Sahlgrenska Academy in Sweden found that the product of a gene called SOX5 controls this process. When the researchers decreased the activity of SOX5, the cells become less mature and less insulin was produced. Conversely, increasing SOX5 increased the activity of 168 genes and the production of insulin was normalized.

The researchers say that eating "unhealthy foods" and exercising too little can decrease levels of SOX5. Of course different people have different ideas about what foods are healthy, but we probably all agree that a diet of potato chips and soda is not healthy.

The researchers also found that the drug valproic acid, which is used to treat epilepsy and bipolar disease, increases levels of SOX5. It is known that people given valproic acid sometimes develop hyperinsulinemia, but the drug has not been studied as a diabetes treatment. Like all drugs, valproic acid has side effects, sometimes serious, and only more study would determine if the benefits for type 2 diabetes exceed the risks .

This new discovery is not likely to lead to a cure for type 2 diabetes in the near future, but it's encouraging that the defective (dedifferentiated) beta cells can be restored to normal function and can produce normal amounts of insulin again. Wouldn't that be nice.


  1. Wonder why this discovery is not likely to lead to a cure...?

  2. I said not likely to lead to a cure in the near future. This type of research takes time.

  3. My husband takes Valproate for another condition. Although he has symptoms of insulin resistance, his post prandial numbers are always good. I've been at somewhat of a loss to know how to help him overcome the insulin resistance.

  4. If the insulin resistance is caused by the valproate, there's probably not a lot you can do beyond the usual recommendations for exercise and a good diet. If his postprandials are good, the IR is probably not causing a lot of harm.

  5. Gretchen have you seen the work of Dr Doiron in San Antonio? They cured mice of type 1 diabetes which has lasted a year so far with gene therapy.

  6. Joshua, Unfortunately, mice have been cured of type 1 zillions of times and it never seems to turn out that the mouse cure works with humans. Also, gene transfer with a virus is scary and complex, so it will be a long time before this becomes available in humans. It's still interesting.

  7. Can you point me to other examples of work where type 1 mice were able to produce their own insulin long term as a result of gene therapy so I can understand more about all the examples you have seen.

  8. Joshua, Here are a few "cures." You can Google "type 1 diabetes cure mice rats" to find more. They don't all use gene therapy, but I would be very cautious about using gene therapy.