Research published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation has identified a ‘dimmer switch’ that controls the amount of insulin produced by pancreatic cells. The molecular pathway adjusts the amount of insulin that is secreted when blood sugar increases.
Type 2 diabetes is the condition the body enters when it can’t produce enough insulin to function properly, meaning that glucose remains in the blood rather than being usable as energy. Symptoms include feeling thirsty, urinating more than usual (especially at night) and fatigue.
The condition increases the risk of blindness, nerve damage, stroke, heart disease and several other serious health problems.
Patrick MacDonald, associate professor in the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry, and the study’s senior author, says the ‘dimmer switch’ facility appears to be lost in type 2 diabetes patients, but could be turned back on in the isolated cells they examined.
The researchers made their discovery by examining pancreatic cells from human organ donors. MacDonald says the discovery is a ‘potential game-changer’:
‘Understanding the islet cells in the pancreas that make insulin, how they work — and how they can fail — could lead to new ways to treat the disease, delaying or even preventing diabetes.’
MacDonald says that although an important step has been taken, more work needs to be done. He believes that finding a way to use these findings practically could take decades.
‘We don’t know enough to stop type 2 diabetes yet, but this is a large step towards understanding what’s going wrong in the first place.’