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Stanford researchers identify a new pathway governing growth of insulin-producing cells

The beta cells of the pancreas are the only cells in your body that can produce insulin. While beta cells proliferate robustly in newborn and very young animals, they stop growing in adults. Developmental biologist Seung Kim, MD, PhD, describes why in a paper (subscription required) published today in Nature. From our release:

The researchers found that, in mice and humans, the pathway is governed by the expression of a molecule called platelet-derived growth factor receptor. PDGF-receptor expression declines over time in mice and humans in a pattern that parallels the decrease in the proliferation of pancreatic beta cells, which produce insulin to control blood sugar levels.

Figuring out a way to artificially activate the PDGF receptor pathway in adults could possibly lead to new treatments for diabetes, the researchers say:

"We're hopeful that soon we might be able to manipulate this pathway in a therapeutic way in humans," said professor of developmental biology Seung Kim, MD, PhD, "perhaps by rekindling its expression and then activating it through a drug we could give in an injection or through some other route. This could be a kind of one-two punch against diabetes."

Photo by Seung Kim and Hainan Chen showing an increase in beta cell mass and number after PRGF receptor stimulation

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