Discovery of Pancreatic Insulin Switches Could Lead to New Diabetes Drugs

October 19th, 2011

Researchers at the Salk Institute have discovered how a hormone turns on a series of molecular switches inside the pancreas that increases the production of insulin. The finding, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, raises the possibility that new designer diabetes drugs might be able to turn on key molecules in this pathway to help the 80 million Americans who have type 2 diabetes or pre-diabetic insulin resistance.

The molecular switches command pancreatic beta islet cells, the cells responsible for insulin, to grow and multiply. Tweaking these cells might offer a solution to type 1 diabetes, the form of diabetes caused by destruction of islet cells, and to type II diabetes, the form caused by insulin resistance.

"By understanding how pancreatic cells can be encouraged to produce insulin in the most efficient way possible, we may be able to manipulate those cells to treat or even prevent diabetes," says the study's lead author, Marc Montminy, a professor in the Clayton Foundation Laboratories for Peptide Biology at Salk.

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