Throughout National Diabetes Month, we will be sharing developments into Joslin’s unique approach for a permanent cure for type 1 diabetes. Our mission is to prevent, treat and cure diabetes so that one day there will be a world free of diabetes and its complications.
While his colleagues in the 3R project — Tom Serwold, Ph.D. and Stephan Kissler, Ph.D. — are working to reset and regulate the immune system, Peng Yi, Ph.D., is working on regenerating lost beta cells. He is using a hormone called betatrophin secreted by the liver, and he plans to create a drug to stimulate production of beta cells in people with type 1 diabetes.
Without functioning beta cells, the body cannot produce the insulin it needs to clear glucose from the bloodstream. Many labs have undertaken efforts to replenish this store of beta cells. Some trials have attempted to transplant beta cells, but this has led to complications with transplant rejection. Others are trying to turn different cells of the body into cells that can secrete insulin.
Dr. Yi wants to go back to the source and make use of the beta cell’s natural ability to replicate. In someone without diabetes, beta cells can essentially copy themselves to make sure their stock doesn’t run low. But the autoimmune attack happening in someone with type 1 diabetes hinders the beta cells’ ability to replicate.
Dr. Yi has discovered a hormone called betatrophin, which comes out of the liver and stimulates beta cells to copy themselves. Studies have shown that many people with type 1 diabetes retain a small amount of beta cells. Betatrophin acts on these residual cells, causing them to increase their numbers. Importantly, the hormone only expands beta cells, avoiding the dangerous random growth of cells that leads to tumors.
Dr. Yi is working on three ways to harness the betatrophin’s power. First, he wants to trigger an increase of natural betatrophin in the body. Second, he is trying to form a synthetic version of the hormone to act as an injectible treatment. Third, he is understanding the chain of events in the body that turn betatrophin on with the goal of developing a drug that activates that chain.
Dr. Yi’s work on regenerating beta cells, when taken in combination with Dr. Serwold’s reset of the immune system and Dr. Kissler’s regulation, will lead to a permanent cure for type 1 diabetes.
Support Joslin’s research for a cure. Donate at giving.joslin.org/3Rs.