December 8, 2016

Making human beta cells reproduce

A new method developed at Vanderbilt will speed the search for potential therapeutics for diabetes: compounds that stimulate the replication of insulin-producing beta cells.

by Leslie Sedgeman

A hallmark of Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes is loss of insulin-producing cells (beta cells) within the pancreatic islet. Therefore, restoring normal beta cell mass by identifying molecules (mitogens) capable of stimulating these cells to replicate is a promising therapeutic strategy.

A key challenge has been that mitogens that work effectively to replicate mouse beta cells have not proven to be effective in human cells.

In the American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism, Kristie Aamodt, an M.D., Ph.D. student, Marcela Brissova, Ph.D., Alvin Powers, M.D., and colleagues reported a strategy to rapidly test potential mitogens for their ability to increase human beta cell replication. Human pancreatic islets were dispersed into single cells and stimulated with a series of mitogenic compounds. After staining, an automated imaging and analysis approach was developed to identify the number of dividing beta islet cells.

This new method overcomes previous challenges and should quicken the search for compounds that stimulate beta cell proliferation.

This work was supported by grants from the Department of Veterans Affairs, the National Institutes of Health (DK072473, DK089572, DK089538, DK092758, DK097829, DK094199, DK104211, DK066636, DK063439, DK097921, DK055023, GM007347), the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, the American Diabetes Association, and by the Vanderbilt Diabetes Research and Training Center.

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