London: Diabetes may be due to the failure of a privileged few cells, rather than the behaviour of all cells, suggests new research.
“This study is interesting as it suggests that failure of a handful of cells may lead to diabetes,” said co-lead researcher Guy Rutter from Imperial College London.
Type-2 diabetes occurs when the pancreas fails to produce enough insulin to function properly, meaning that glucose stays in the blood rather than being converted into energy.
Beta cells make up around 65-80 per cent of the cells in the islets of the pancreas. Their primary function is to store and release insulin and, when functioning correctly, can respond quickly to fluctuations in blood glucose concentrations by secreting some of their stored insulin.
The new findings showed that just one to ten per cent of beta cells control islet responses to glucose.
“These specialised beta cells appear to serve as pacemakers for insulin secretion. We found that when their activity was silenced, islets were no longer able to properly respond to glucose,” David Hodson from the University of Birmingham explained.
Studies were conducted on islet samples from both murine and human models.
The researchers used optogenetic and photopharmacological targeting to precisely map the role of the cells required for the secretion of insulin.
The team believes that the findings, published in the journal Cell Metabolism, could pave the way for therapies that target these handful of specialised cells.
“It has long been suspected that â€˜not all cells are equalâ€™ when it comes to insulin secretion. These findings provide a revised blueprint for how our pancreatic islets function, whereby these hubs dictate the behaviour of other cells in response to glucose,” Hodson noted.