October 21, 2011

Growth factor boosts beta cells

A growth factor may help grow transplantation-quality pancreas cells for treating diabetes.

The hormone-producing regions of the pancreas, known as “islets,” contain the beta cells (in green), which produce insulin.

Transplantation of insulin-producing pancreatic beta cells is showing promise in the treatment of type 1 diabetes. But lab methods for growing transplantation-quality beta cells are not optimal: the yield of beta cells is low, and expansion of the cells has proven difficult.

Maureen Gannon and colleagues previously showed that a protein secreted by beta cells – connective tissue growth factor (CTGF) – is required for beta cell proliferation during embryonic development. To understand the tissue interactions by which CTGF promotes beta cell growth, the investigators inactivated CTGF in specific cell types in mice. They found that loss of CTGF from either endothelial (blood vessel) cells or beta cells reduced beta cell proliferation. Overexpression of CTGF in beta cells in the embryonic period increased islet mass at birth by promoting proliferation of immature beta cells.

The results, reported in the Sept. 13 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggest that inclusion of CTGF may improve methods for growing transplantation-quality beta cells.


The research was supported with funding from the National Institutes of Health’s National Cancer Institute and National Institute for Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases and Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International.