By Chantel Donnan, Dec 30, 2016
For years, science has sought to achieve a very specific goal in diabetes research: find a way to replace diseased beta cells with functioning ones, thus reversing diabetes. Scientists have explored treatments with pig cells, stem cells, and protein implants, but have yet to find the right compound to achieve this goal.
But according to a new study published in Cell, the malaria drug artemisinin might do the trick.
Reshaping the Alpha Cells
How will artemisinin help type 1 diabetics manage their condition? According to study leader Stefan Kubicek, the drug “change[s] the epigenetic program of glucagon-producing alpha cells and induce profound alterations of their biochemical function.”
In the pancreas, alpha and beta cells combine with other cell types in the islets, where they work together to regulate blood glucose. In a type 1 diabetic's pancreas, the insulin-producing beta cells fail to do their job, resulting in the condition. However, the alpha and beta cells are flexible; according to various studies, alpha cells can replenish insulin producing cells if enough beta cells deteriorate. Of course, there needs to be an instigating compound – and that is where artemisinin comes in.
Kubicek's team found that artemisinins have a profound effect on alpha cells in the pancreas. In fact, they reshape alpha cells by binding to a protein called gephryin. Ultimately, this transformation results in the body producing insulin naturally once again.
Kubicek and his team tested this drug on diabetic zebrafish, mice, and rats, all to great effect – all test subjects showed greater beta cell mass and improved blood sugar control after taking artemisinins. While the team remains optimistic, they know that, "Obviously, the long term effect of artemisinins needs to be tested" in humans. But, as Kubicek says, “[W]e are confident that the discovery of artemisinins and their mode of action can form the foundation for a completely new therapy of type 1 diabetes."
Source: Science Daily