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Diabetes mellitus (DM), commonly known as diabetes, is one of leading cause of mortality worldwide. It is a chronic, metabolic disease characterized by elevated levels of blood glucose (or blood sugar). Over time, this leads to serious damage to the heart, blood vessels, eyes, kidneys and nerves.
For the unversed, diabetes occurs when the pancreas, a gland behind the stomach, does not produce enough insulin (Type 1 diabetes), or the body can't use insulin properly (Type 2 diabetes). Insulin is a hormone that helps carry sugar from the bloodstream into the cells so that it is converted into energy for immediate use or stored for the future.
The 2020 is being called a cursed year, thanks to the coronavirus outbreak, which is identified as the worst pandemic seen in over a century. But there have been some remarkable breakthroughs in diabetes research this year. Here are two major developments achieved this year that are likely to lead to more effective treatments for diabetes.
A research team from the University of Birmingham and other international institutions managed to obtain better images of the glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor (GLP1R), a target for diabetes therapy.
GLP1R is a receptor protein that is present ondiabetes breakthroughs beta cells of the pancreas and on certain brain cells that produce insulin. It helps regulate blood sugar by stimulating the specialized cells to produce more insulin. It has been difficult to image the receptor due to its minute size. And as a result, many of GLP1R's various characteristics and functions have so far remained unclear.
Using super-resolution microscopy alongside an advanced molecule-tracking technique called immunostaining, the research team was able to discover the exact location of these receptors on cells, as well as how they react to certain signal molecules.
"Our research allows us to visualize this key receptor in much more detail than before. Think about watching a movie in standard definition vs. 4K, that's how big the difference is," said senior study author Prof. David Hodson, from the University of Birmingham.
Enhanced imaging of GLP1R may help uncover more information about this molecule, which, in turn, could potentially lead to more effective treatments for type 2 diabetes in the future, the researchers noted in a paper that appeared in the journal Nature Communications in January 2020.
Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body's immune system attacks and destroys pancreatic islet cells, rendering them unable to make insulin and other hormones that regulate blood sugar levels. For decades, scientists have been working on finding a way to transplant healthy pancreatic islet cells into the bodies of people with type 1 diabetes.
In a study published in Nature Biotechnology in March this year, researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis demonstrated that human stem cells could be turned into insulin-producing beta cells using a new technique. The researchers believe that transplantation of billions of such cells could effectively lead to a cure for type 1 diabetes.
Jeffrey R. Millman, PhD, Assistant Professor of Medicine and Biomedical Engineering at Washington University and Principal Investigator on the study, however, noted that there is still much left to do before this strategy can be used to treat people with diabetes.
Another similar breakthrough came from a group of researchers from the Salk Institute in the US. They created pancreatic cell clusters that can avoid detection by the immune system. This means the body didn't reject the clusters and thus the patient requires no immunosuppressive drugs.
Transplanting pancreatic beta islets into type 1 diabetes patients has been possible in the past, but it has required them to take life-long immunosuppressing drugs that carry health risks.
The findings by the Salk Institute researchers were published on August 20, 2020 in Nature.
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