Monash University researchers have discovered the barrier to the regeneration of β cells (beta cells), which could pave the way for improved treatment of diabetes and diseases with organ and tissue damage.
The human body does not repair itself very well. Our liver is the only organ that can regenerate efficiently. We have limited options for regenerating new cells or tissues after birth because the genes involved in development are switched off.
This process happens through DNA methylation, a biological process in which chemicals (methyl groups) are written on DNA and change the way the gene works. This modification effectively silences the genes of progenitor cells (early descendants of stem cells) in the body and thus the ability of the pancreas to produce the insulin-producing β-cells.
Using mouse models, the study published in Regenerative Medicine, led by Professor Sam El-Osta of Monash Central Clinical School, found that two key developmental genes, Ngn3 and Sox 11, had decreased DNA methylation levels, effectively “repairing” them .
However, demethylation can re-awaken progenitor cells, restoring their ability to become new insulin-producing beta cells, paving the way for improved treatments for type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
The collaboration between Dr. Keith Al-Hasani and Dr. Ishant Khurana has produced some surprising results. Their discovery that DNA methylation is an obstacle to beta cell regeneration in adults will help scientists restore the function of beta cells in the pancreas. “
Professor Sam El-Osta from the Monash Central Clinical School
Currently, the replacement of the damaged β-cell mass in diabetics consists of a transplant of the whole pancreas or islets. Although these therapies are efficient, they face the shortage of organ donors and the associated side effects of immunosuppressive drugs.
Current research is focused on the replacement of the lost β-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.
Dr. Keith Al-Hasani, co-first author of the study, added, “This is a novel and significant finding that allows us to use these ‘sleeping beauties’ (stem cells like cells) to wake up and become insulin cells to treat diabetes to heal . “
Khurana, I., et al. (2021) The DNA methylation status correlates with the regenerative capacity of adult β cells. npj Regenerative Medicine. doi.org/10.1038/s41536-021-00119-1.