EDMONTON — Researchers from the University of Alberta say they have identified a new molecular pathway that manages the amount of insulin produced by the body, and they're touting the discovery as a potential "game changer'' in the field of diabetes research.
The new pathway was found after researchers examined pancreatic cells from 99 human organ donors.
They found that the pathway acts as a sort of "dimmer'' switch, essentially adjusting how much insulin is secreted when blood sugar increases.
A study detailing their discovery was published Monday in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.
Prof. Patrick MacDonald, an associate professor at the University of Alberta Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry, says the "dimmer'' switch appears to be lost in patients with Type 2 diabetes.
But he says it can be turned back on, essentially restoring proper control of insulin secretion from pancreatic cells in diabetes patients.
MacDonald says the discovery could lead to a new way of treating the disease in the future.
"Understanding the islet cells in the pancreas that make insulin, how they work—and how they can fail—could lead to new ways to treat the disease, delaying or even preventing diabetes,'' he says.
He says while restoring the "dimmer switch'' in the islet cells of the pancreas may have been proven on a molecular level, finding a way to translate this into clinical practice could take decades.
"We don't know enough to stop Type 2 diabetes yet, but this is a large step toward understanding what's going wrong in the first place,'' he says.
According to the Canadian Diabetes Association, there are more than 10 million Canadians living with diabetes or prediabetes. Patients with diabetes can't produce enough insulin or can't properly use the insulin their body produces.
Diabetes can lead to high blood sugar levels, which in turn can damage organs, blood vessels and nerves.
Type 2 diabetes accounts for about 90 per cent of all cases. It is associated with an increased risk of blindness, stroke and heart disease. It is initially managed with lifestyle changes, including dietary changes and increasing exercise.
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