Research Describes "Dimmer Switch" in Pancreatic Islet Cells


The research could hold the key to a novel treatment for type 2 diabetes, although it will take years to adapt the idea to clinical practice.

A paper appearing in the Journal of Clinical Investigation identifies a molecular pathway that regulates the level of insulin produced by pancreatic islet cells, which the research team described as a “dimmer switch” that adjusts the amount of insulin secreted as blood sugar rises or falls.

What’s more, the team has found that this regulator, which seems lost once type 2 diabetes (T2D) occurs, can be restored if the correct level of insulin is regained from the islet cells. Obviously, this could hold the key to a new treatment, according to Patrick MacDonald, PhD, an associate professor at the University of Alberta and senior author on the study.

The research involved cells from 99 donated human organs that MacDonald said were key to the study. This occurred through access to the Alberta Diabetes Institute's IsletCore, a biobank established with funding from the Alberta Diabetes Foundation and the University of Albert, which collects pancreatic islets from organ donors--with and without diabetes--for diabetes research in Edmonton and across North America.

MacDonald said showing how this dimmer effect occurs on the molecular level is one thing, but translating the research into clinical use could yet take decades. That doesn’t make the results any less exciting. . "Understanding the islet cells in the pancreas that make insulin, how they work--and how they can fail--could lead to new ways to treat the disease, delaying or even preventing diabetes," he said in a statement released by the university.

"We don't know enough to stop Type 2 diabetes yet, but this is a large step towards understanding what's going wrong in the first place."


Ferdaoussi M, Dai X, Jensen MV, et al. Isocitrate-to-SENP1 signaling amplifies insulin secretion and rescues dysfunctional β cells [published online September 21, 2015]. J Clin Invest. 2015; DOI:10.1172/JCI82498.

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