Can the pancreas regenerate?

Type-1 diabetes is caused by the loss of so-called pancreatic beta cells, the cells that produce the hormone insulin, which is essential for regulating the use of sugar in the body. Since beta cells do not regenerate, scientists have traditionally assumed that the loss of these cells is irreversible; indeed, diabetic patients require insulin injections for life. However, over the years researchers have reported the restoration of the pancreatic exocrine function. Several humoral factors seem to be involved in pancreatic regeneration acting by a specific receptors-mechanisms, like bombesin, octeotride, fibroblast growth factor and transforming growth factor. 

New research shows that a diet which mimics fasting might be able to push beta cells in the pancreas to repair themselves and start making insulin again. Restoring the function of the organ reversed symptoms of diabetes in animal experiments. 

In the study, mice were put on a modified form of the 'fasting-mimicking diet'. Similar to the dieting practice of spending 5 days on a low-calorie, low-protein, low-carbohydrate intake, the diet resembles a vegan diet with nuts and soups providing around 800 to 1,100 calories a day. The animals follow this fasting period by 25 days of eating what they want. Together, the process mimics periods of feast and famine. It is being said that the diet reboots the body and has been heralded as being potentially very exciting as a new treatment for the disease. Previous research has also suggested it can slow the pace of ageing.


Dr Valter Longo, from the University of Southern California, said: "Our conclusion is that by pushing the mice into an extreme state and then bringing them back - by starving them and then feeding them again - the cells in the pancreas are triggered to use some kind of developmental reprogramming that rebuilds the part of the organ that's no longer functioning." There were benefits in both type 1 and type 2 diabetes in the mouse experiments.

The research findings are published in the journal Cell.


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