Researchers have discovered the barrier to beta cell regeneration that could pave the way for improved treatment of diabetes and diseases that cause organ and tissue damage.
According to the study published in the journal npj Regenerative Medicine, the human body does not repair itself very well. Our liver is the only organ that can regenerate efficiently as we have limited capacity to regenerate new cells or tissues after birth as genes involved in development are turned off.
That process happens through DNA methylation, a biological process in which chemicals (methyl groups) are written on DNA and change how the gene works, said the researchers, including Sam El-Osta of Monash University. This modification effectively silences genes from progenitor cells (early descendants of stem cells) in the body, thereby silencing the pancreas’ ability to make the insulin-producing beta cells, they added. “The discovery that DNA methylation is an obstacle to the regeneration of beta cells in adults will help scientists restore the function of beta cells in the pancreas,” said Professor El-Osta. Currently, the replacement of the damaged beta cell mass in diabetics consists of a transplant of the entire pancreas or islets. While these therapies are efficient, they face the shortage of organ donors and the associated side effects of immunosuppressive drugs, the team said. Current research is focused on replacing the lost beta cells in diabetics using different approaches and cell sources. Understanding how tissue and cell processes are controlled during development is critical to realizing the potential of these regenerative approaches.