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New Bacterial Protein Found to Boost Insulin-Producing Cells for Treating Type 1 Diabetes

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  • Insulin hormone is produced by the beta cells of the pancreas.
  • A research team from the University of Oregon finds new bacterial protein in the gut of Zebrafish to trigger insulin-producing beta cells.
  • Further research is required to develop BefA-related molecules as potential therapeutic option for type1 diabetes.

New Bacterial Protein Found to Boost Insulin-Producing Cells for Treating Type 1 Diabetes

The discovery of a new bacterial protein produced in the zebrafish was found to trigger insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas, finds a study from the University of Oregon.

Insulin produced by the beta cells of the pancreas regulates sugar metabolism. Type 1 diabetes, associated with the lack of insulin production was found to affect around 1.5million people in the United States.


The research study was published online in the eLife Journal.

Karen Guillemin, biologist, University of Oregon, director of the UO's META Center for Systems Biology, said, that by understanding the mechanism by which the microbiota affects the beta cells development which are absent in Type 1 diabetes patients, can lead to the development of a new diagnostic, preventative and therapeutic approach for the disease.

She said, "We're realizing that the microbiome is a rich source for discovering new biomolecules that have enormous potential for manipulating and promoting our health."

Jennifer Hampton Hill, doctoral student and study author used a germ-free zebrafish model and found that certain gut bacteria are required by the pancreas to produce beta cells.

During the first week of life, Germ-free fish did not undergo expansion of beta cells like that of conventially reared fish. By exposing the fish to certain bacteria may help to retain the beta cell mass to normal level. This eventually led to the discovery of novel bacterial protein which can stimulate the growth of insulin- producing cells.

Hampton Hill, said,"The research suggests that animals rely on the cues and signals from the microbial communities that inhabit their bodies and that they are important for very intricate parts of development."

"It's exciting to think that bacteria could play such an important role in a process that is so essential for homeostasis, for the ability to regulate glucose metabolism," she added.

Guillemin also said, that this new idea found microbiome to be a key for signaling the development of the pancreas. The research study is first of its kind to make a connection between microbiome and beta cells development.

Scientists have increased their understanding of the link between the host-associated microbes and development of gut and immune system.

The research team developed new methods for growing germ-free zebra fish and were able to screen gut bacteria which could stimulate the production of beta cells.

Hamptom Hill was able to focus on one bacterium from this group and discover secreted proteins for beta cell-expanding activity. Around 163 proteins were discovered.

Further, genome sequences of the previously screened bacteria were taken and prospective proteins were shared between the beta-cell expanding bacteria and inert bacteria. This proved that only a single protein candidate was never studied.

The purified version of the protein was added to germ-free fish, and beta cell population was found to expand naming it as Beta Cell Expansion Factor A or BefA.

By using the molecular identify, scientists were able to search sequences in other bacterial genomes and found several human-gut associated bacteria.

Guillemin said, "We had spent many years collecting and characterizing zebrafish gut bacteria, and it was gratifying that we could harness all of this knowledge in the discovery of BefA."

Low-diversity childhood microbiomes were linked to an increased risk of Type 1 diabetes. These microbiomes are less capable to stimulate beta cells and may buffer the immune system during attack.

Promoting Breast feeding and avoiding the excess use of antibiotics can promote healthy microbiome development in children. However, further research is required to develop BefA-related molecules for Type 1 diabetes.


  1. Jennifer Hampton Hill et.al. A conserved bacterial protein induces pancreatic beta cell expansion during zebrafish development. eLife 2016; DOI: 10.7554/eLife.20145

Source: Medindia

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