“This study marks the first description of several different kinds of human insulin-producing beta cells,” said Markus Grompe, stem cell scientist at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) in Portland, US.
diabetes, affecting millions worldwide, is caused by the dysfunction or loss of insulin producing beta-cells which help the body to achieve normal blood sugar levels.
Until now, beta-cells were generally regarded as a single, homogenous cell population.
The findings showed that hundreds of genes were differently expressed between cell subtypes and that they produced different amounts of insulin.
All type 2 diabetics had abnormal percentages of the subtypes, suggesting a possible role in the disease process.
“Some of the cells are better at releasing insulin than others, whereas others may regenerate quicker. Therefore, it is possible that people with different percentages of the subtypes are more prone to diabetes,” Grompe said.
Using human pancreatic islets, or clusters of up to 4,000 cells, the team discovered a method to identify and isolate four distinct types of beta cells.
Pancreatic beta-cells are the glucose-responsive, insulin-secreting metabolic cells.
“Further understanding of cell characteristics could be the key to uncovering new treatment options, as well as the reason why some people are diabetic and others are not,” Grompe added.
Additional research is also needed to determine how different forms of diabetes – and other diseases – affect the new cell subtypes, said a paper published in the journal ‘Nature Communications’.