University of Vermont

Research and Animal Welfare

Creating New Treatments to Control Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes affects one in every 600 children and can shorten a person's lifespan by up to 15 years. It's not a disease sufferers can outgrow and controlling it requires constant vigilance. That's why endocrinology researchers at UVM are working on a treatment that ends the need for injections.

How are they doing this?

Researchers utilize mice to examine the factors that promote the growth of beta-islet cells — the cells that secrete insulin. When a portion of the pancreas is surgically removed in mice, the islet cells in the remaining pancreas compensate by increasing in number and metabolic activity. The use of genetically modified mice, which lack specific protein intermediaries, has helped to demonstrate how the growth of these cells is regulated. In the future, this knowledge will allow the treatment of type 1 diabetes by stimulating the patient's own beta-islet cell development or performing islet-cell transplants, rather than relying on insulin injections.

Why are animals important?

Much of the current research on diabetes focuses on communication within and between cells and tissues in the body. The cascade of events associated with beta-islet cell regeneration is complex and only beginning to be understood. Living animals as yet are the best means of studying the "cross-talk" between multiple cell and tissue types.

What are the significant outcomes of this research?

About five percent of all cases of diabetes are Type 1 or "insulin dependent." The cause of type 1 diabetes is not known, but there are likely both genetic and infectious (or immunologic) components to the disease. Presently, there is no cure for type 1 diabetes; patients must receive daily insulin treatments for life. Developing ways to regenerate or transplant beta-islet cells into the diabetic patient would have significant effects on patients' longevity and quality of life.

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