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Changing alpha cells into beta cells

05 October 2012

Today at the EASD annual meeting, JDRF held a joint symposium with the EASD on beta cells. During the session, Dr Simona Chera from the University of Geneva in Switzerland presented her research on alpha cells that can turn into beta cells.

Dr Chera and her team have found that in adult mice that have had type 1 diabetes for a long time, the alpha cells (that usually make glucagon) can turn into cells very much like beta cells, making insulin in response to changing glucose levels. The team began by monitoring the alpha cells after the beta cells had died and found that a long time after the loss of beta cells, some alpha cells began to turn into insulin producing cells.

Interestingly, Dr Chera reported that the changing of alpha cells into beta cells was only found in adult mice. While younger mice do also regenerate new beta cells after the development of type 1, they do not come from alpha cells. In fact the team found that regenerated beta cells in younger mice came from less specialised pancreatic cells in the same way that beta cells are normally made. 

In the same session, Dr Patrick Collombat from INSERM in France presented his work that found that the differentiation of alpha cells into beta cells is caused by a protein called Pax4. He found that altering the levels of Pax4 in mice caused more beta cells to develop.

Maebh Kelly, Research Communication Officer at JDRF commented: 'Alpha cells are found next to beta cells in the islets of the pancreas, but they are not usually destroyed in type 1 diabetes. Understanding the relationship between alpha cells and beta cells may help scientists find new ways to help the body to produce more beta cells.'

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