An unlimited amount of insulin produced by a special type of pancreatic cells in the human body could soon be used for the treatment of diabetics.
According to a latest study by the researchers at the University of South Florida (USF), human body cells that express neurogenin 3 (NGN3), could be cultured or harnessed to produce as much insulin-producing beta cells as required and used for treating diabetes.
NGN3 is a gene that controls the development of the human pancreas, in addition to the beta cells that produce and secrete the insulin hormone. The insulin secreted by the beta cells, thus, control the blood glucose levels in a person.
During the study, the researchers at the USF, University of Illinois and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine examined the NGN3 protein obtained from histologically normal pancreatic biopsies of cadavers and patients requiring a biopsy for other medical reasons.
Even though the researchers were not expecting the NGN3 expression in adult pancreas, they did find the NGN3-expressing cells in the exocrine pancreas, the region which is known to produce digestive enzymes in the human body. The researchers also found that the NGN3-expressing cells resembled the progenitor cells that produce “all and only cells in pancreatic tissue known as islets.”
The researchers believe that the NGN3-expressing cells can thus be maneuvered to become insulin-producing beta cells. The NGN3-expressing cells can be easily collected from the patient's own body or from cadavers.
"Now that we know these NGN3 cells are a normal part of adult human pancreas biology, we can learn to increase them and to coax them towards becoming differentiated pancreatic endocrine cells by using specific drugs," said lead researcher Michael Shamblott, in a statement. "Our goal is to regenerate functional beta cells that can cure diabetes."
In people suffering from Type 1 diabetes, the insulin-producing beta cells are completely destroyed. Therefore, such people need to take insulin injections to bring down their blood glucose levels. Whereas, in people who suffer from more common Type 2 diabetes, insulin is produced. However, it is not used properly and more quantity of the hormone is required.