Researchers probe ways to provide people who have type 1 diabetes with insulin-making cells

Some individuals who developed type 1 diabetes early in life wonder what type of medical or scientific advancements are being made to help find more effective and convenient diabetes treatments.

Although the American Diabetes Association reports that people who have type 1 diabetes account for only 5 percent of the American population affected by the disease, these individuals typically require greater amounts of daily insulin than those who have type 2 diabetes.

Recently, a study published in the journal Developmental Cell showed that scientists are exploring the possibility that some endocrine cells may be manipulated into insulin-making pancreatic beta cells.

"We show that the basis for this conversion depends not on genetic sequences but on modifications to the DNA that dictate how the DNA is wrapped within the cell. We think this is crucial to understanding how to convert a variety of cell types, including stem cells, into functional beta cells," said lead researcher Anil Bhushan.

The investigators explained that by targeting chemical identifiers called methyl groups in a cell's DNA, they may be able to increase the expression of some genes that control glucagon production and thereby convert alpha cells to beta.

Identifying ways to replenish pancreatic beta cells in individuals who have type 1 diabetes has been a goal of scientists and medical professionals for many years. To achieve this, some people with diabetes have undergone transplants to receive a new pancreas. However, a recent article published by ABC 7 News in Denver, Colorado, reported that some hospitals are providing patients with an experimental surgery called islet cell transplantation.

The news organization explained that this procedure involves transferring only small portions of beta cells from a healthy pancreas into that of an individual who has type 1 diabetes.

Trahnel Mays was one of the first to receive an islet cell transplant. She now requires only 20 units of insulin daily, compared to 70 before her operation, according to the news source.

"I can’t imagine not wearing an insulin pump. I can’t grasp that fully. I feel like I've been dealing with this all my life," she told the news provider.

Dr. Amer Rajab explained to ABC 7 that these insulin-making cells account for less than 5 percent of the pancreas, although he suspects that there will be a shortage of donor islet cells if more people with diabetes begin seeking this type of transplant.