Diabetes Treatment Could Replace Insulin Medication, New Hormone Discovered

There's promise of a more effective way to treat diabetes with the recent discovery of a new hormone. Researchers believe that the hormone may have a dramatic effect on type 1 and 2 diabetes.

An estimated 26 million Americans are afflicted with diabetes, a metabolic illness that affects the body's blood sugar levels. Researchers discovered a hormone called betatrophin that made mice produce insulin rapidly. The rate of production of pancreatic beta cells that secreted insulin was up to 30 times higher than normal.

More work must be done before the discovery can be used to treat diabetes in humans. Researchers, Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI) co-director Doug Melton and postdoctoral fellow Peng Yi said that drug manufacturers are interested in their findings.

"If this could be used in people, it could eventually mean that instead of taking insulin injections three times a day, you might take an injection of this hormone once a week or once a month, or in the best case maybe even once a year," Melton said in a press release.

Associated with obesity, type 2 diabetes causes patients to lose the ability to produce the right amount of insulin as beta cells are gradually lost. Treatment for diabetes in the United States costs an estimated $245 billion per year. This equals about 10 percent of the nation's entire health bill.

 "Our idea here is relatively simple. We would provide this hormone, the type 2 diabetic will make more of their own insulin-producing cells, and this will slow down, if not stop, the progression of their diabetes. I've never seen any treatment that causes such an enormous leap in beta cell replication," Melton said.

Results of the study will be published in the May 9 print edition of the journal Cell. The findings were published in Cell Thursday in an online pre-release. 

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