A hormone responsible for the body's stress response is also linked to the growth of insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, has been found by researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California.
The findings are the latest advances to underscore the potential for regeneration as a key component of a possible cure for type 1 diabetes, say researchers.
The study, led by Dr. Wylie Vale, showed that the stress hormone could increase the rate at which insulin-producing cells in the pancreas expand in animal models.
These findings reinforce the potential of regeneration as a cure for diabetes and provide insights for discovering new approaches to treat people with diabetes by restoring or regenerating their ability to produce insulin.
Research conducted by Vale's laboratory since the 1980s established the role of the hormone CRF (corticotropin-releasing factor) in regulating the stress response in people.
With this research, the team now reports that CRF has a direct effect on how insulin producing cells in the pancreas function and grow.
Dr. Mark O. Huising said: "We found that beta cells in the pancreas actually express the receptor for CRF. And once we had established the presence of CRF in these cells, we started filling in the blanks, trying to learn as much as we could."
These results showed that when beta cells are exposed to the hormone, and to high levels of blood sugar, they will produce and release insulin. Working in collaboration with researchers at the Panum Institute in Copenhagen, the researchers discovered that these insulin-producing cells proliferate when exposed to CRF.
"Being able to stimulate beta cells to divide a little faster may be part of a solution that may ultimately, hopefully, allow management of type 1 diabetes," Vale said.
"But because it is an autoimmune condition, making the cells divide won't be enough. That is why researchers are working hard to solve the problem of destruction of beta cells," Vale added.
The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.