Diabetes is a disease that impacts the lives of 400 million people around the world. The disease is a silent but deadly affliction so there are a number of research projects dedicated to increasing insulin production in the pancreas. Most people with diabetes use medication to increase the amount of insulin in the pancreas. But a new diabetes study orchestrated by researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics is shedding new light on how to treat diabetes. Andrew Pospisilik and his team of researchers discovered some pancreatic cells change the way they function after functioning properly for years. In other words, they change their job description. Instead of producing insulin, some cells act like non-producing insulin cells due to metabolic stress as well as a lack of epigenetic control.
Without epigenetic control the cells lose their identity, and their ability to release insulin. Impaired epigenetic control fuels the development of diabetes. The old theory was insulin production was the result of beta cells dying in the pancreas. According to the Andrew Pospisilik study, pancreatic cells don’t die. They change their job description by changing into another cell type. When cells lose their identity, they turn into progenitor-like endocrine cells that lack the ability to produce insulin.
For years, medical researchers believed metabolic stress was the main cause of diabetes. But the Pospisilik study shows that losing epigenetic control is the main instigator of diabetes. DNA is neatly arranged around the histone proteins in the cells structure, and DNA plays a pivotal role in gene regulation. DNA helps cells turn on and function normally or turn off and not cooperate with other cells. All pancreatic cells have the same DNA, but some cells lose epigenetic control and that modifies the DNA packaging. DNA packaging works like sheets of music work for an orchestra. If the sheet music changes for some instruments in an orchestra you can still hear the music, but the sound of the music changes dramatically.
The same thing happens to the cells when the DNA packaging in some cells changes from metabolic stress and other environmental influences. But thanks to the Pospisilik study, new therapeutic strategies can help change the way pancreatic cells function as the body ages. Researchers are targeting epigenetic systems using epigenetic therapies which involve the use of histone and DNA methylation. These therapies can exert influence over DNA packaging in pancreatic cells, according to scienddirect.com.