Researchers at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI) have discovered a hormone that holds promise for a dramatically more effective treatment of type 2 diabetes, a metabolic illness afflicting an estimated 26 million Americans. The researchers believe that the hormone might also have a role in treating type 1, or juvenile, diabetes.

The work was published today by the journal Cell as an early online release. It is scheduled for the May 9 print edition of the journal.

The hormone, called betatrophin, causes mice to produce insulin-secreting pancreatic beta cells at up to 30 times the normal rate. The new beta cells only produce insulin when called for by the body, offering the potential for the natural regulation of insulin and a great reduction in the complications associated with diabetes, the leading medical cause of amputations and non-genetic loss of vision.

The researchers who discovered betatrophin, HSCI co-director Doug Melton and postdoctoral fellow Peng Yi, caution that much work remains to be done before it could be used as a treatment in humans. But the results of their work, which was supported in large part by a federal research grant, already have attracted the attention of drug manufacturers.

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