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Alpha Cells in Pancreas Can be Converted to Insulin Producing Beta Cells

The alpha cells of pancreas are known for producing the hormone Glucagon. The function of this hormone is to raise the blood sugar level. The hormone insulin is produced by the beta cells of pancreas and basically reduces the blood sugar levels in the body. It means that the hormones insulin and glucagon have opposite functions. Lack of insulin hormone in sufficient amount causes Type 1 diabetes in young people mostly. The beta cells in the patients suffering from this disease become ineffective. But according to research studies carried out at the University of Geneva, Scientists have discovered that alpha cells can get converted into insulin-producing beta cells. The results of the findings are published in the journal Nature. This article tries to get further insight on these findings.

Knowledge Gained from Research:

  • Alpha cells coexist with beta cells in a region called The islets of Langerhans.
  • The alpha cells form 15-20 percent of total islet cells whereas the beta cells comprise of 65-80 percent of the pancreatic cells.
  • The research study revealed that the alpha cells are not destroyed by the autoimmune processes of diabetes, unlike beta cells.
  • The tests were carried out on experimental diabetic mice.
  • The researchers destroyed the beta cells in these mice and reprogrammed the alpha cells.
  • This reprogramming of the alpha cells lead to conversion of these cells into beta cells.
  • It is for the first time that researchers have succeeded in developing a technique which converted other pancreatic cells to beta cells.
  • Earlier efforts of conversion of non-beta cells to beta cells were focused mainly on the technique of manipulations of genes.
  • The drawback of genetic manipulation technique is that the processes involved here can not be easily converted into therapies in the long run.
  • Though it is learnt that the conversion of alpha-beta cells is a natural and spontaneous process, the mechanism of conversion is not understood yet completely.
  • The study also found that another technique of increasing the count of beta cells is to maintain the mice on insulin therapy.
  • By the end of the study, number of beta cells was slowly and spontaneously brought back to normalcy, and the requirement of insulin replacement was eliminated completely.

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