Newfound hormone holds hope for diabetes

NEW YORK — Scientists have identified a hormone that can sharply boost the number of cells that make insulin in mice, a discovery that may someday lead to a treatment for the most common type of diabetes.

People have their own version of this hormone, and the new work suggests that giving diabetics more might one day help them avoid insulin shots.

That would give them better control of their blood sugar levels, said Harvard University researcher Douglas Melton, senior author of a report published Thursday by the journal Cell.

Experts unconnected with the work cautioned that other substances have shown similar effects on mouse cells but failed to work on human ones. Melton said this hormone stands out because its effect is unusually potent and confined to just the cells that make insulin.

An estimated 371 million people worldwide have diabetes, in which insulin fails to control blood sugar levels. High blood sugar can lead to heart disease, stroke and damage to kidneys, eyes and the nervous system. At least 90 percent of diabetes is “Type 2,” and some of those patients have to inject insulin. Melton said the newly identified hormone might someday enable them to stop insulin injections and help other diabetic patients avoid them.

As for its possible use to treat Type 1 diabetes, Melton called that a “long shot” because of differences in the biology of that disease.

Insulin is produced by beta cells in the pancreas.

Melton and co-authors identified a hormone they dubbed betatrophin in mice. When they made the liver in mice secrete more of it by inserting extra copies of the gene, the size of the beta cell population tripled in comparison to untreated mice. Tests indicated the new cells worked normally.

Melton said it’s not known how the hormone works. Now the researchers want to create an injectable form that they can test on diabetic mice, he said. If all goes well, tests in people could follow fairly quickly.

Dr. Peter Butler, a diabetes researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles, who had no role in the new work, cautioned in an email that no evidence has been presented yet to show that the hormone will make human beta cells proliferate.

But Philip diIorio, of the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, said he found the work to be “quite promising” because it offers new leads for research, and that it might someday help in building supplies of human beta cells in a lab for transplant into patients.

More in Local News

At long last, a church of his own

After years of filling in elsewhere, Hallack Greider is the new pastor at Maplewood Presbyterian.

Judge: Lawmakers’ emails, texts subject to public disclosure

News organizations had sued to challenge the Legislature’s claim that members were exempt.

Herald photos of the week

A weekly collection of The Herald’s top images by staff photographers and… Continue reading

Outgoing councilwoman honored by Marysville Fire District

The Marysville Fire District in December honored outgoing City Councilwoman Donna Wright… Continue reading

Everett district relents on eminent domain moving expenses

Homeowners near Bothell still must be out by April to make way for a planned new high school.

Their grown children died, but state law won’t let them sue

Families are seeking a change in the state’s limiting wrongful-death law.

Officials rule train-pedestrian death an accident

The 37-year-old man was trying to move off the tracks when the train hit him, police say.

Number of flu-related deaths in county continues to grow

Statewide, 86 people have died from the flu, most of whom were 65 or older.

Ex-Monroe cop re-arrested after losing sex crime case appeal

He was sentenced to 14 months in prison but was free while trying to get his conviction overturned.

Most Read