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Diabetes effort aims to boost function of insulin-producing cells

Nov. 6, 2014, 8:44 AM

Al Powers, M.D., and colleagues Chunhua Dai, M.D., left, and Marcela Brissova, Ph.D., are participating in a national effort to improve diabetes treatment by stimulating the growth of insulin-producing beta cells (pictured on the computer monitor).

Vanderbilt University is part of a national effort to improve diabetes treatment by developing strategies for proliferating, regenerating and improving the function of insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreatic islets.

Al Powers, M.D., director of the Vanderbilt Diabetes Center, is principal investigator of a five-year, $3.9 million federal grant to find out why “juvenile” islets from individuals under 10 years of age grow more robustly than do adult islets.

His co-principal investigators are Stanford University’s Seung Kim, M.D., Ph.D., and Andrew Stewart, M.D., at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York. Chunhua Dai, M.D., and Marcela Brissova, Ph.D., research assistant professors of Medicine, are co-investigators on the Vanderbilt team.

The Vanderbilt-led grant (DK104211) is one of five recently awarded by the National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Diseases under the Consortium on Targeting and Regeneration, one of four consortia that make up the Human Islet Research Network (HIRN).

“Discoveries by our team have shown that juvenile human islets respond to proliferative stimuli such as platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF) and glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1),” Powers noted.

“We hypothesize that juvenile beta cells have active signaling pathways that promote growth, but that these become inactive in adult human beta cell,” he said. “We hope to understand these age-related changes and identify pathways that will simulate growth of adult human beta cells.”

HIRN is a successor to the worldwide Beta Cell Biology Consortium, for which Vanderbilt served as coordinating center under the leadership of Mark Magnuson, M.D., the Louise B. McGavock Professor of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics.

In addition to his leadership of the Vanderbilt Diabetes Center, Powers is chief of the Division of Diabetes, Endocrinology, and Metabolism, Joe C. Davis Professor of Biomedical Sciences, and professor of Medicine and of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics.

He and his colleagues recently reported several advances in understanding the regenerative capacity of beta cells.

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