Person suffering from diabetes tests their blood sugar levels

A research team from the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland and the Mater Misericordiae University Hospital have made a discovery that can be used to create new treatments to fight diabetes.

The group has identified an insulin-producing cell which, when it dies, releases a regenerative boost to its neighbors that encouraging them to grow. Their discovery opens up the opportunity to develop therapies that could help those suffering from type one and type two diabetes. 

The researched involved the work of Prof Jochen Prehn, professor of physiology, and Dr Caroline Bonner of the department of physiology and medical physics, both of the Royal College of Surgeons, and consultant endocrinologist Dr Maria Byrne and Dr Siobhán Bacon, registrar in endocrinology at the Mater hospital.

The team was looking for the pancreatic tissues, beta cells, which produce insulin.

Insulin is the hormone that controls how the body uses blood sugar to create energy. Without insulin the body’s blood sugars can rise dangerously which was lead to shock or even death.

Prof Prehn told the Irish Times “Our study shows that when [beta] cells die off they actually stimulate the local environment to produce new cells.

“There is a tremendous hope that there is that capacity to regenerate beta cells or protect them against immune cell attack…The discovery could also help show whether drugs or other treatments were working in the body,” he said.

Dr Anna Clarke, health promotion officer of the Diabetes Federation of Ireland  said “Any better understanding of how insulin is produced in the body is important to us…It is significant because all new discoveries offer a way to respond with a pharmaceutical preparation.”